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California GOP Trades Principles For Money

Jennifer Kendall |
November 30, 2010 | 9:10 p.m. PST


The GOP must choose principled candidates over rich ones (Creative Commons)
The GOP must choose principled candidates over rich ones (Creative Commons)
The California Republican Party has continually put forth candidates who fund a large percentage of their own campaigns, but the amount of money candidates spend on themselves to win the vote doesn’t predict much else than a thinner bank account after the election.

The Center for Responsive Politics found one trend in the 2010 midterm elections was that self-funded candidates had the least success at the federal level.

“Of the 58 federal-level candidates who contributed at least a half-million dollars to their own campaigns, fewer than one in five won the seat they had sought,” said the Center.

This is not a new trend either.

“Historically, self-financed candidates have had limited success at the federal level. Most of the candidates who've spent the most during the past two decades have lost,” the Center said.

So why do California Republican’s keep sending in wealthy candidates to spend their way to victory that they never achieve?

“If you’re not a union supporter, you might challenge the union pension system or you might challenge the labor movement just in general, you are going to have an uphill battle,” said Megan Barth, an activist in local and national politics.

And in California, unions play such a large role in political campaigns that the GOP tends to look first at who can afford to fight them and then who has the right message.

Jason Pitkin, one of California’s leading fundraising, event planning and political consulting specialists, said “More money does not always correlate to more votes if you have a flawed candidate with a bad message.”

Republican Meg Whitman is proof that money won’t buy votes. She spent more of her own money on a single race than any U.S. political candidate in the history of the U.S., yet she still lost the election.

“She probably could’ve rallied her base and gotten more votes if she supported Proposition 23 that a lot of people that were her base were behind and simply didn’t vote for her because of that,” said Barth.

California has a history of choosing GOP candidates to run who tend to be more moderate, but are able to support their own campaign. They understand that unions are able to raise substantial money for their competition and the GOP typically has not raised nearly as much money as Democratic candidates.

As long as the GOP fails to put forth candidates that have the right message, they will continue to run into fundraising problems.

It is a cycle that needs to be broken in order for any Republican to have a chance, but limiting campaign funding is not the solution.

The Supreme Court in Buckley v. Vallejo (1976) ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech and could not be limited.

“Limiting the amount of money in politics is unconstitutional and actually hurts 3rd party candidates or alternative views to the existing party infrastructure,” said Pitkin.

And it’s possible a third party candidate has better ideas for this country than those outlined by Republican or Democrat candidates.

Pitkin said that the existing two parties have an institutional infrastructure “that provide them an unfair advantage to raise money and get their message out.”

There might be a way to even out the playing field for all candidates, however.

“The unions must be prevented from automatically taking money from their members paychecks to use for political purposes without members approval,” said Pitkin.

The Wall Street Journal exposed the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) as the largest outside spender of the 2010 midterm election. This public sector union spent a whopping $87.5 million on campaign efforts including TV ads and phone calls.

The AFSCME collectively with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the National Education Association (NEA) put Democrats $31.5 million ahead of their Republican challengers.

This kind of discrepancy in union funds has caused quite a gap in the playing field of political parties. In the case of the Nevada Senate Race this year, Harry Reid (D) saw 22 percent of his campaign funded by Political Action Committees (PAC) while Sharron Angle (R) received only one percent of her contributions from PAC’s.

The difference in how much a politician raises for his or her campaign will affect the amount of votes he or she receives to some extent. “The more money you have the more ability you have to spread your message, which if you have the right message, will hopefully guarantee your votes,” said Barth.

Private donations also can help to predict how invested voters are in a candidate’s message.

“Money indicates that an individual is making an investment in a candidate and is more likely to vote for that candidate if they are actually registered to vote,” Pitkin said.

The problem remains that unions can outspend a candidate who doesn’t have the money to compete with them, but the candidate put forth cannot expect to win if they do not have the right message for their voting base.

If California Republicans continue to choose the candidate with money over the candidate with principles their party believes in, they will continue to lose elections.


Contact Jennifer Kendall here.

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