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Duly Noted

Thursday, Apr 19, 2012, 4:37 pm

The Puffery of the Campaign Fundraiser

By Lindsay Beyerstein

401k, Creative Commons.

No sane person would dispute that money has outsized influnece in American politics. But  Walter Shapiro of the Columbia Journalism Review points out a potentially important bias in a lot of reporting about money in politics. The people who are most likely to tell you how important money is in politics are the very people who get paid to raise money:

Missing from the equation is skepticism about the self-interested role of political insiders and campaign consultants in ballyhooing the merits of unlimited campaign spending. Good reporters would not be swayed if prominent Realtors trumpeted the benefits of home ownership over renting, but there is a long tradition of glossing over the built-in bias of campaign ad-makers and strategists when they prophesize doom if candidates fail to raise more money to pay for their services.

[...]

As admirable as all the efforts by the political press corps and foundation-backed groups to chart the sources of campaign donations may be, that is only half of the double-entry bookkeeping side of the ledger. What is missing is an equal curiosity about where campaign funds are going and who is profiting from all the spending. The fall presidential election campaigns will be a $2 billion business—and that alone should invite some long overdue press scrutiny of the inner workings of Politics Inc.

Shapiro's point is well-taken. These fundraisers aren't disinterested parties. The more money they raise, the bigger their cut. Their economic interest is to raise more money, rather than to ensure that campaign dollars are spent wisely.

Consultants have a vested interest in inflating the campaign finance bubble to ever more grotesque proportions. Ironically, as long at the bubble continues to expand, campaigns really do have to raise more in order to stay competitive.

The critical reader should keep the economic interests of the political consultant class in mind when weighing their pronouncements.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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