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It seems to be accepted truth today that all money in political campaigns is inherently evil. Let me offer a contrary view, thanks to Ferrel Guillory
Ferrel is the ever-wise director of Program on Public Life at the UNCCenter for the Study of the American South.
At breakfast the other day, we were talking about public financing of campaigns.
Ferrel told us about a conversation he had with a young woman here about politics. She never got excited about politics, she told him, until Barack Obama.
“Do you realize why you got excited about Obama?” Ferrel asked her. “Because he had $750 million in his campaign.”
Obama, you recall, scorned public financing. He raised so much money – including a lot of small contributions online – that he could play in all 50 states. He didn’t have to husband his money for a few battlegrounds. He had enough money to have offices and people working everywhere.
Whether you like Obama or not, the point is that money can help candidates get people motivated and involved in campaigns.
Look at the electricity and excitement surrounding the Democratic Senate primary.
Or not.


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4 comments on “In Praise of Campaign Money

  1. -1 says:



  2. SC Harrison says:

    Gary, I agree an argument can be made that money in politics can serve to “energize” the electorate by financing campaign infrastructure that facilitates GOTV efforts. But that argument begins to falter when you look at the reverse of that; outreach coming from the bottom up.

    Consider a gathering of 100 small donors ($50 each) who all believe strongly about something; let’s say it’s pushing for stronger regulations to curb pollution from a local factory. The owner of that factory scribbles off a check for $5,000 while he’s lunching with the candidate. In a strictly “money” category, that one voice has now equal access as the other 100 voices. As a cherry on top, that owner associates with a lot of other wealthy individuals who might just scribble their own checks as well.

    In the race for cash that elected officials must adhere to in our current system, if they want to get reelected that is, odds are that factory will continue to spew pollution, and those 100 donors will withdraw from the process in disgust.

    The money itself is not “evil”, but the paradigm it has created is. And it’s up to us to shift that paradigm.

  3. -1 says:


    ditto on SC Harrison. The goal of public financing isn’t to eradicate money from politics. Heck, in our Council of State program we have here, we explicitly grant the same amount of money it costs to win the seat under the old rules.

    It’s all about the source. As long as it comes from just a few people with a narrow interest in mind, our republic will be more beholden to those few.

  4. -1 says:

    If the candidate who spent the most ALWAYS got the most votes, you guys would have a point. But of course they don’t. It’s the candidate with the most VOTES who gets elected, and there is no way one factory owner can outvote 50 citizens.

    The factory owner ought to have as much right to participate in the political process as the concerned citizen activist. What’s needed is absolute and immediate transparency of all political contributions, so that every voter can see who is paying how much and to whom before the polls open.

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