David Brooks’s New York Times column “Don’t Follow the Money” provides an excellent example of an op-ed column that does a superb job of marshaling statistics and arguments to make a point. Expect to see it in future anthologies of ‘Persuasive Writing.’
Doesn’t mean he is right, however, as some of the responses to his column in The Times’ letters, indicate. Here’s an excerpt from Common Cause President Bob Edgar’s response:
…It’s clear that money counts in our elections. Since 2000, the average winner in contests for open House seats has outspent the average loser by at least $310,000, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. In races for open Senate seats, winners outspent losers, on average, in every year except 2002.
Mark Green, a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and NYC Mayor and author of “Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation and Betrays Our Democracy,” adds:
…But it’s a very big deal when anonymous special interests drop several hundred thousand dollars in targeted competitive House races or several million in swing states, as Representative Peter deFazio, an Oregon Democrat, and Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, have discovered to their consternation.
Mr. Brooks selectively argues that well-financed candidates like Phil Gramm and John Connally did poorly in their presidential races. That’s true, though one wonders whether he also thinks that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s money was irrelevant (only asking).
While independent or candidate spending is not the only or even the most important variable — message, economy, scandal can count for more — only someone who’s never run for office can theorize that money doesn’t matter.
Since Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon have invested a combined $160 million of their own fortunes in their campaigns — and candidates spend half to two-thirds of their time “dialing for dollars” — one wonders why they all waste so much money and time. Mr. Brooks suggests that candidates are foolish to seek and spend such large sums.
Over at Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald does a compelling job of shredding Brooks’s cherry-picked stats, and adds:
Given that all of this funding can be (and is being) directed to close races, and given that the vast bulk of this funding is completely unknown and anonymous (a five-fold increase in anonymous spending since 2006), it requires misleading formulations to depict these amounts as insignificant and trivial in the scheme of things. With his column today, Brooks seems to have relied on exactly that approach to make his point. Brooks purposely concealed from his readers that just these two entities alone were spending $140 million to shape election outcomes — most of which are from unknown sources — because that fact renders Brooks’ dismissal absurd on its face.
Brooks’s argument may apply better to primary contests, before the really big dough shows up. There will be high-profile exceptions, like the ones Brooks has noted. But, overall, the candidates who have less money behind them remain the underdogs.