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Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

More on Campaign Finance Reform

Something is in the e-air, I guess. Posner and Becker are tackling the campaign finance reform topic in their blog post for the week. These two intellectual heavyweights reiterate many of the points that I made, Justice Scalia made, and John Stossel made.

Posner points out the difficulties this legislation places on non-incumbents...
But to limit advertising would be to deny sellers full use of an important competitive tool. It would have a particularly deleterious effect on new entry into markets, since a new entrant may have to spend heavily on advertising to overcome settled consumer preferences for existing brands. The political market is similar. Candidates "sell" themselves as leaders or representatives, plus their programs and policies, to the electorate; campaign advertising helps the voters decide which candidate, which package, to buy. Limiting the amount of money that a candidate can spend on advertising his candidacy discourages new entry into the political market.
It's tough to win an election if no one knows your name.

Posner does find one thing that he likes in the legislation: naming the sponsors of political ads.
It is true that one effect is to reduce the amount of political advertising, but to the extent that this comes about because disclosure of the backers of the candidate (or the candidate's connivance in an untruthful ad) makes the advertising less effective, rather than because the sponsor desires anonymity because his support of the particular candidate would be unpopular in his firm or his community, this is all to the good. And because voters have so little incentive to study political ads carefully, there is something to be said for inducing skepticism in voters by forcing the revelation of the names of the sponsors.
I think that his point is good, but I think anonymous ads have a similar effect. As I have made clear, I'm not a big fan of anonymous attacks. I would immediately view an anonymously sponsored political ad as suspect.

Becker agrees with Posner on the problems for new candidates...
Political incumbents have many advantages over challengers because they get publicity while in office, and can use their position to steer legislation toward projects that help their constituents. Effective limits on campaign contributions make it harder for newcomers to challenge incumbents by raising funds to gain the recognition among voters that enable them to compete against incumbents. For a variety of reasons, the incumbency advantage has grown over the past several decades. The movement to restrict contributions is not the main force behind this growth, but it does work toward a greater incumbency advantage.
The incumbency advantage is real. From anecdotal evidence, I have found that many people vote for the incumbent because they "haven't heard of the other guy" or "know that Congressman X is familiar with the job." It's a vote out of ignorance and comfort. All of you Democrats who support this legislation need to ask yourself if you're comfortable with the status quo in DC.

Again from Becker...
I believe these restrictions are as undesirable as restricting who can run for office. Indeed, restrictions on campaign contributions do skew the political playing field toward rich individuals like Steve Forbes, Jon Corzine, Michael Bloomberg, John Kerry, and others who spend large amounts of their own monies. This is hardly a push toward greater "democracy".
Looks like rich white guys make out pretty well with this legislation. Who else doesn't have to rely on big donors or time consuming small donation fundraising? What about that "diversity" you liberals love so much?

I highly recommend the Becker-Posner blog. Each week, they take on a new issue, allow comments, and usually respond to the comments the next week (after the new post). This isn't Daily Kos, so you won't find a bunch of demagogues and partisan hacks. It's an honest discussion of the issues by two people who are much smarter than you (and me).

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