from The Wall Street Journal, Book Review: ‘Sons of Wichita’ by Daniel Schulman & ‘Big Money’ by Kenneth P. Vogel– review by Barton Swaim
Whatever else Mr. Vogel’s book proves, “Big Money” makes clear that this influx of mega-cash hasn’t enabled anyone to “buy” an election. In 2012 Super-PAC money helped keep the GOP primaries competitive for far longer than they otherwise would have been, with the result that voters in usually irrelevant primary states had reason to engage their faculties over whom the Republicans should nominate as president. Rather than “hijacking” American politics, big money—in this case, anyway—democratized it. That’s a disaster if you’re a billionaire trying to buy a president. If you’re a wealthy citizen trying to draw attention to a body of ideas neither party fully embraces, it may be worth it.
If the Kochs are interested in financial gain, as Mr. Krugman and others on the left contend, they are exceptionally poor investors. Even if they could have gotten everything they might want out of a Romney administration—highly unlikely in any circumstance—the financial benefits would have been negligible compared with the hundreds of millions they donated. The same is true of other big donors on both left and right in 2012.
Mr. Vogel concedes that political donations have little to do with expectations of government favors. “Savvy CEOs with major interests before government consider lobbying a more effective way to boost or protect their interest,” he says. “Lobbying, in other words, is for financial gain, while big campaign contributions are mostly for passion or ego.” The problem, in Mr. Vogel’s view, is one of transparency and accountability. Debates over candidates’ viability, he writes, “once would have been hashed out by elected officials within the party apparatus, sometimes in rounds of platform committee votes, other times behind closed doors, but usually with some measure of accountability. Now, the new rules of money and politics allowed the ultra-rich a seat at the head of the table.”
I’d put it differently. Decisions once made by party apparatchiks under the thumbs of special interests are now also influenced by people who care enough about public policy to take massive financial losses in order to elect politicians who believe the same things that they—and many others—believe. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
The role of big money in politics is greatly exaggerated. The obsession with the Kochs is deranged.