The role of money in campaigns is greatly overstated in the minds of most Americans who pay attention to politics. There is a threshold, an amount of money that candidates need to raise to be competitive in a given race. Money raised beyond that amount can be spent strategically, up to a point of diminishing returns. And beyond that point, additional spending doesn't bolster the candidate's chances. A simpler way to think of it is that once a candidate has spent money on all the "right" things that a successful campaign should spend money on, all additional spending is just blown on advertising. Buying more ads is what you do when you have money and can't think of anything more productive to do with it (this is, of course, assuming that quite a bit of spending on advertising has already been done).

We saw a great example of this in 2008 when the Obama campaign had so much cash on hand that they were, in the case of swing states like Ohio, buying every single ad spot in a 30 minute program. Believe it or not, once a viewer has seen an ad a dozen times, showing them the same ad several hundred more times has no additional benefits. It's just overkill at some point.

Nonetheless, there are useful ways to spend a million dollars in any competitive race in the country right now. So it isn't entirely clear why the Democratic Party is spending that million bucks trying to help an unpopular and by any measure (other than their favorite, "she's better than a Republican") a very bad incumbent win a primary. I refer to the Rhode Island gubernatorial race, which is one of those statewide races Democrats have to go out of their way to find a way to lose.

I don't expect that party organizations maintain neutrality during primaries. Parties endorse candidates and have always done things to help those favored by the party to win. I simply do not understand why at this very moment, anyone could look at the races happening across this country and conclude that "Let's give Raimondo a million bucks to maybe fend off a primary challenger, because seriously how bad do you have to be in a deep blue state to not be able to win your primary as the incumbent governor."

Could that not be more productively spent in, say, the Florida gubernatorial race in which a competitive Democrat has the potential to break 20 consecutive years of GOP control of that office? Maybe spend that money on ground teams to pound doors, drag voters to polling places, and so on? Which does the Democratic Party have a deeper interest in: protecting an incumbent from another Democrat who very likely would hold the office anyway, or taking back something the GOP has held for two decades?

Parties as organizations make decisions that are not always outwardly logical because people in the party are not all equally influential. If you're in the clurb, the party may do things to help you even when it's not strictly rational. The favor will be expected to be repaid later. That said, it seems so clear that more benefit is derived from bolstering a race against a Republican than from trying to sway a primary where a very bad Democratic incumbent is in danger of losing because of her own actions and nothing more.

16 thoughts on “MONEY PIT”

  • schmitt trigger says:

    After seeing the same ad over 20 times, one starts becoming nauseous. It may actually be counterproductive.

    It is similar to binge eating your favorite food. At certain point, it will make you sick.
    Afterwards, what was a favorite actually becomes detestable.

  • I agree that Florida or some other races would be better uses of the money, but even the article to which you link notes that Rhode Island has had a history of nominating farther-left candidates than will win and thus ended up with Rethuglikkklan governors. Maybe the calculation is that saving a Democratic statehouse is important considering that less than half of our states have them?

  • Oh Ed, this is charmingly naive. Money is not spent in races in order to maximize the number of wins overall. Money is spent in order to maximize the success of "our guys". The "our guys" running the Democratic Party right now are right-wing corporatists – Clinton, Pelosi, Schumer, etc. They are spending money to bolster right-wing corporatists wherever needed, full stop.

    If there's some ultra-progressive who needs ten more dollars to win a state governorship… they're NOT going to get it. Progressive dude in Florida ain't getting a cent. If he loses, that's a WIN for corporatist Democrats: "see, progressives can't win".

    If there's some right-wing corporatist who needs a million dollars to fend off a progressive challenger: here's the cash.

    This is intra-party politics, not inter-party. Has nothing to do with the Republicans at all. None of the Democratic spending decisions have much to do with beating the Republicans. They have to do with making sure the positions of current party leadership are secure by doling out money to people who will support current party leadership. What would be the point of spending money to elect a progressive that's going to vote against you in the next party elections? That's idiotic, putting yourself out of a job. Instead, party money should be spent primarily smashing progressives wherever possible. That's how to keep your party faction in power. Sure, it means your success against the Republicans is nonexistent, but so what? Your job is safe.

  • "If there's some ultra-progressive who needs ten more dollars to win a state governorship… they're NOT going to get it. Progressive dude in Florida ain't getting a cent. If he loses, that's a WIN for corporatist Democrats: "see, progressives can't win"."

    Name one.

    And then, after you name him, tell us why he isn't getting any money from the people he's been telling to go fuck themselves for the last few elections.

  • " once a viewer has seen an ad a dozen times, showing them the same ad several hundred more times has no additional benefits"

    Right, so make different ads. Obama won Ohio because McCain's campaign could not get any air time to attack Obama in October. Because the stations can't create more minutes in the days before elections, buying up all the available stock is a strategy that many people think contributed to Obama's success.

    The real reason he won Ohio is that my mom, a retired white lady who worked 41 years in Ohio's public sector, got all her white lady retirees from the agency to join her knocking on doors during early voting.

    But the opposing campaign being unable to run attack ads limited enthusiasm among old white people who can't afford to retire & blame unions & black people. IOW, Republicans.

  • To your real point: state parties are rational actors. In RI, NJ, NM…I can't think of others off-hand…there are some stupid, corrupt & incompetent Democrats in statewide offices who know where the bodies are buried. Keeping them in office & off the streets is a rational investment of state party dollars. It's not as if that money is going to Florida.

  • I already hated campaign commercials in August, even the ones with entire half truths, but what's worse, the money that buys them is the chains that bind politicians to enormous money.
    And I'd like something in a Democrat better than the "Yesterday's Republicans" the DLC favors, but they're infinitely preferable to today's Republicans, especially if the next Wall $treet incident creates an excuse for a Constitutional convention.

  • If the conversation is supposedly meant to be about the evil of campaign financing, we should include all those benefit programs so obviously designed to garner votes like the New Deal as well, right?

    And not just because such freebies never deliver, they're paid for from our taxes; so far for example, the War on Poverty has cost the tax payer an estimated $22 trillion. Worth every penny? It certainly has kept the legislator job seekers line vey short.

  • Libertarian politics can be part of a functioning economy, but doesn't look extensible into a whole economy, unless "A Boy and his Dog" sounds like an attractive future. And Trump's puppeteers will never give you a balanced budget amendment, though I expect them to use it as an excuse to call a convention to create a constitution that suits them better.

  • Hey, my own home state!

    This doesn't explain exactly why Raimondo is so hated, and it's missing a crucial component about the narrative. Rhode Island has the highest percentage of democratic voters in the nation. But it's far from the most liberal. That means that democratic primaries frequently pit progressives versus centrists (I don't mean those terms to be loaded, but whatever you're picturing, yes).

    Raimondo slashed public sector worker pensions, but she's also a former hedge fund executive who more than once has been accused of personally profiting off of the 'reform' she oversaw. She's never been proven to have — but she's never clearly rebutted it, either. She's currently embroiled in a 'pay for play' scandal about the reform, which by my count is the 2nd time she's been accused of such without being exonerated either time or making more than the perfunctory fact-free denials.

    Raimondo needs the support, it is argued, because since she so f&*ked over the unionized public sector work force the public sector unions won't back her. She is appealing HARD to the private sector unions, but though they may endorse her a.) their membership tends to vote more republican than they are encouraged to and b.) the relatively powerful AFL-CIO in the state won't endorse her due to the large public sector membership. All of this means that she really has no natural constituency in the primary. So, it's not exactly hard to see how the democratic party could lose this, and a lot of their voters would consider a win by Raimondo to be a loss of sorts, anyway.

    For better or for worse, Raimondo fundraises very, very well. She has a bunch of rich friends from her time on Wall Street, she has consistently (and continues to) outraise anyone challenging her. So, the democratic party apparatus has a very clear reason to back her. There will be far more money flowing from her should she win that will from the totally unfunded Matt Brown. Couple that with the fact that plenty of 'on the fence' democratic voters may actually split to Allen Fung, himself a democrat until he got fed up with the City of Cranston democratic party machinations, and it's fairly easy and depressing to see why this race shakes out the way that it does.

    If it's any consolation, she won't lose to Matt Brown and though she's been dragged through the mud around here it's hardly like Fung is a perfect candidate. He's not as popular in Cranston as he was the last go-around, has plenty of scandals of incompetence of his own, and just naturally seems to have a talent for tripping over his own feet rhetorically (probably because he feels compelled to act more conservative than he actually is). For instance, though he himself is a 2nd generation Chinese-American who is justifiably proud of his family's story, he retweets racist Trump tweets about dangerous immigrants. In the general he will be called out on it, and he won't be able to defend it without pissing off 'the center' that Raimondo inhabits or losing the rabid MAGA-hatters that encompass Trillo's base.

  • How fungible is "Democratic Party" funding, though? If the Democratic Governor's Association and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have separate checkbooks, separate goals, and separate boards, and presumably are already sitting on the max donations from the same list of high-dollar donors, it is probably not trivial to claw back some of Raimondo's money and stick it in Nelson's campaign.

  • @Negative 1, thanks for the on the ground info. I was gonna make some kind of half-assed "Dems would rather lose with a neoliberal than win with an economic populist" (so as not to upset their corporate donors) crack (sorry, dc), but hey, all politics is local, amirite?

    @Ed, nice twitter dunk, bro.

  • There is a state assembly race here which was previously held by a guy who made his way up the ladder by first running for the local city council, then the state assembly position, then another position (I forget which) and he had his sights set on state Superintendent of schools. I lost track of his career because from the beginning it was obvious he was what I call a "career Democrat" — someone who is a party insider that is helped by the party because the party only wants to advance the careers of people who play the game, and not actually advance the supposed ideals and platform of the party.

    I mention this man, because the seat he vacated to run for higher office is currently being contested by a white woman vs. a black woman. The black woman is an LGBT, local city councilperson, who has built a career of serving her constituents, and is a very active and public persona through her local activism for a variety of causes, including environmentalism, public education, ending the school-to-prison pipeline and many other issues relevant to her core constituency.

    Her opponent's main qualification for office seems to be: worked on Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Yet this woman has been endorsed by some of the biggest names of who's who in Democratic Party politics over the last 10 years, including the current junior US Senator, the current Secretary of State, the current every damn Democrat within 5 Congressional Districts, the mayors of several of the larger towns this specific district covers, and a laundry list of other party insiders, including the aforementioned ladder climber I mentioned who previously held this seat. Her policy positions are generic and abstract ("Good for education", "Environmentalism is good", etc) and show very little actual grasp of what matters.

    The problems are (1) being a white woman with a laundry list of popular Democrats endorsing her is good enough for the vast majority of the supposedly informed people I work with who say "She's a progressive Democrat, that's enough for me" without looking into what her actual positions are, and (2) these people continue to "succeed" because the party wants people who play by party rules to succeed, and damn everyone else who thinks they can win without paying high priced Democratic party consultants to run their campaigns. When I see someone come out of left field with a host of endorsements and a slick campaign, I vote against them on principle, because I cannot stand supporting these "career Democrats" when they are only interested in climbing that ladder for their own personal glory and not actually serve the people.

  • Just in case anyone here is not familiar with his horseshit:

    From 10/25/17, via the Libertaritroll, Carrstain:

    "I need to make a correction. I have never pretended that I intend to do anything but comment on the absurdity of the progressive delusion. Hence, I don’t think I have ever attempted or ?><proffered solutions."

    So you admit to being nothing but a fucking troll.

    A little unintentional birthday gift to me @ 9:55 AM on 10/25/17.

    Thanks, for being clear. And just so I'm clear. I intend to put that bit in quotations, and only that, as a reply to any comment you make on any thread.

    Now, fuck off, troll."

    Not much more need be said, to or about the asshole.

  • Rhode Island has had a history of nominating farther-left candidates than will win and thus ended up with Rethuglikkklan governors.

    In the last 30+ years this does not appear to be true. Di Prete beat Sundlin who won the Governor's race after 3 losses. Myrth York beat Sundlin in a primary but lost the general and then twice more. She evidently voted for Nixon and endorsed Lincoln Chaffee over Sheldon Whitehouse. Charles Fogarty was the twice elected sitting Lt. Governor, and then Frank Carcio ran on advancing small business. So I don't see too far left to get elected here

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