February 13, 2012, 12:50 PM
Moon Candidate Returns to Earth
By my count, there are three main arguments in favor of weak campaign finance rules: Money is speech (so it’s unconstitutional to constrain it), money is information (meaning it enables communication with voters, and less money would result in less communication), and money is a signal. By “signal” I mean that a candidate’s ability to raise funds indicates whether he has mass appeal, and allows the electorate to gauge the enthusiasm of his backers.
There’s a reasonable debate to be had about the first two claims, but the new super PAC system—whereby individuals can write an unlimited number of checks to groups that back a particular candidate but are theoretically separate from his campaign—has pretty well invalidated the third “signal” argument. The system allows a small number of wealthy donors to bankroll a campaign, propping up a candidate who may not command broad support.
We may be seeing this problem play out with Newt Gingrich. The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family have contributed a reported $11 million to the super PAC supporting Mr. Gingrich, largely financing the candidate’s anti-Romney ads and contributing to the impression that he’s a viable presidential contender.
Now Mr. Adelson has closed the pipeline, forcing a newly cash-starved Mr. Gingrich to hunt for checks in a more traditional way. Trip Gabriel reports in The Times that Mr. Gingrich “will be largely out of sight for part of this week” to attend small-scale events in homes and restaurants in search of $500 to $2,500 contributions. Yet “his prospects of raising the cash he needs are uncertain.” Mr. Gingrich was briefly a hit with small-time donors after his sole primary victory in South Carolina (he raised $2 million through an Internet appeal), but that “momentum has now shifted to [Rick] Santorum.”
Republican voters and run-of-the-mill Republican donors aren’t buying what Mr. Gingrich is selling; and I think it’s possible that we’ll come to understand Mr. Gingrich’s not-Romney phase as—at least in part—the artificial product of one man’s irrational enthusiasm.
Mr. Adelson is certainly entitled as an American and a casino-owner to throw away heaps of cash for no good reason, but it might be wiser to have a campaign system that doesn’t let him skew a presidential race in the process.
- Gingrich Money Hunt Faces Obstacles – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Newt Gingrich Loses His Sugar Daddy (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Report: Adelson done giving to Gingrich as funding dries up (thehill.com)
- Sources: Adelson met Newt, then Mitt (politico.com)
- Big Money to Gingrich Stops (politicalwire.com)
- A test post for practice purposes (bandrig.wordpress.com)
- Gingrich Seeks to Ease Fundraising Woes as Big Donations Slow (businessweek.com)
- Sheldon Adelson Not Donating $20 Million to Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC (abcnews.go.com)
- Gingrich and Adelson met in Vegas (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- The Silence of the Newt: (brothersjuddblog.com)