Jonathan Chait weighs in at New York Magazine about “Liberal Donors’ Ethical Confusion.” The article title refers to the decision of a group of a group of big progressive contributors to donate funds to GOTV, rather than Democratic ads. Chait thinks it’s a bad idea:
This is basically the kind of weenie attitude that periodically afflicts liberalism…The explicit argument for their decision is that the donors believe they can’t match the Republican outside groups in advertising, so why try?
…Let me phrase this way of thinking slightly differently: Obama already has a significant advantage in the ground game, but faces a potentially huge disadvantage in the air wars. Therefore, the donors have concluded, they should invest their money augmenting the ground game.
Does this make any sense at all? No, it does not. It’s backwards. The most effective way to spend money is where your side has the greatest disadvantage. Beefing up the already strong Democratic turnout machine would certainly help, but a marginal dollar spent to narrow the advertising gap would surely help more. The point isn’t to “match” Republicans. It’s not as if declining to compete in the field of advertising will make advertising less relevant.
Chait believes the misguided rationale for the strategy “is that liberal donors feel squeamish about entering the world of huge independent ad expenditures.” But the fund-raising system is not going to change between now and November and “Given the fact of the system’s existence, there’s nothing morally wrong about participating in it.”
Indeed, what may be morally wrong is deploying financial resources away from where they are needed the most. As Chait concludes, “Staying out of the advertising race isn’t going to make the system any more fair.”