NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What Is Wrong With Candidates Raising Money?

January 26, 2000

The conventional wisdom on campaign finance is that the current system is deeply flawed and in need of radical overhaul. Candidates must spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising, it is said, and become beholden to special interests.

But there is another side. Forcing candidates to solicit not just votes, but money from supporters, compels them to articulate their message in a much more focused way. After all, it costs very little to vote and even less to tell a pollster whom one may be supporting at a particular moment. Hence, the commitment of those whose support extends only to voting is weak and facile.

By contrast, someone who gives money to a candidate is usually committed to that person. Thus a broad network of contributors is essential to success, not just because of the money but because of the commitment it represents.

Moreover, contributors are likely to be far more discriminating than those who merely vote. Therefore, they act as a kind of filter, discouraging frivolous candidates or those with poorly articulated reasons for running. And they encourage those with good reasons for running to hone their message and become more effective candidates.

The notion that candidates are bought by special interests is ridiculous because individuals are limited to giving just $1,0000, political action committees to $5,000, and corporations are prohibited from giving anything. With multimillion dollar budgets for presidential races, the idea that anyone can buy significant influence for $1,000 or even $5,000 is absurd.

Raising such large sums in small increments is time consuming, but what really is wrong with that? Isn't it better to have a system that forces candidates to spend time explaining to people why they should be elected to high office?

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, January 26, 2000.


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