Saturday, January 02, 2016

the new york times downplayed the influence of money in politics

mediamatters | The New York Times downplayed the impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and dismissed the influence of money in politics by ignoring record-breaking spending of outside groups, the role of large donor political contributions, and dark money in the 2014 midterm election.

A December 9 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Who Wants to Buy a Politician?" argued that the "forecast that a flood of money would follow" the 2010 Citizens United ruling has largely not come to fruition. Author Binyamin Appelbaum noted that "spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections" and argued that spending on campaign elections is "economically inefficient" because campaign spending has little impact on election outcomes:

[T]he 2012 presidential election, which recorded $2.6 billion in campaign spending, underperformed many forecasts. And spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections. Candidates and other interested parties spent $3.7 billion on this year's midterms, down from an inflation-adjusted total of $3.8 billion in 2012, which was less than the $4 billion spent in2010, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.


[B]uying elections is economically inefficient. Most voters, like most consumers, have defined preferences that are difficult for advertisers to shift. Chevron spent roughly $3 million during a recent campaign backing, certain City Council candidates in Richmond, Calif., where it operates a major refinery. Voters instead chose a slate of candidates who want to raise taxes. "Campaign spending has an extremely small impact on election outcomes, regardless of who does the spending," the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt concluded in a 1994 paper. He found that spending an extra $100,000 in a House race might be expected to increase a candidate's vote total by about 0.33 percentage points. Investors appear to agree that companies can't make money by investing in political campaigns. A 2004 study found that changes in campaign-finance laws had no discernible impact on the share prices of companies that made donations.Appelbaum points to small donor contributions to argue that the majority of donations are not meant as an influencing factor:
Most campaign money, after all, comes in smaller chunks from individual donors. People who gave $3 to Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 could not have reasonably expected that their small contributions would influence the future president. Even those who give larger sums rarely contribute the maximum allowed by law, as might be expected of someone trying to buy influence. Instead, individual contributions have increased over time merely in proportion to personal income.
But this argument obscures the especially outsized role large donors have in elections and downplays the proportion of large donations to overall campaign spending. The Sunlight Foundation found that in 2012, the median contribution from this group of elite donors was $26,584. Demos, a progressive public policy think tank, analyzed campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics and found that most campaigns in 2014 were actually fueled by big donors:
Just 50 individuals and their spouses accounted for more than a third of the total money raised by Super PACs this cycle.  Many candidates, including some whose individual contribution totals reach into the millio