Campaign Spending and Sour Grapes
In the wake of an historic Republican victory in the midterm elections where they solidified their lead in the House and captured the Senate, many on the Left are not calling this election for what it is and instead are deflecting attention. Namely, many articles are saying something to the effect that it was not Republicans that won the election, it was money. As an example, many Leftist organizations are now urging a doubling down of the demonization of the Koch brothers through their #1 patsy, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 14%. The legislative agenda in the lame duck Congress will prevent Reid from introducing any campaign finance reform measures, but one can be sure that the Democrats will hammer away at this theme going forward.
However, this belief of the Left is rooted in nothing short of a sour grapes attitude at best or stupidity at worse. In this election cycle, 27 independent groups or political action committees spent at least $5 million- 14 liberal groups and 12 conservative groups. The other was neither liberal nor conservative- the National Association of Realtors. Although there are numerous other groups, these are were the major players. Overall, conservative groups outspent their liberal counterparts, but I am looking at only the $5 million plus crowd.
What the statistics reveal is that among these 26 groups, liberals outspent conservatives $294 million to $287 million. Where the sour grapes enters the discussion is the fact that the liberal groups had a 26.4% success rate. Their best performing group was the League of Conservation Voters, yet their support of candidates failed to reach the 50% success mark (45%). Conversely, conservative groups had an average 60.1% success rate in support of candidates. Their best performer was Crossroads GPS. Ironically, their worst performer is one often cited here and held in high regard among many conservatives, the Club for Growth.
Some other interesting facts are revealed from spending statistics this cycle. Tom Steyer’s Next Generation Climate Action Fund spent over $20 million for a dismal 37.5% success rate in candidate advocacy. That organization launched over $11 million in attack ads against Joni Ernst and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) 63% only to see that $11 million flushed down the toilet. Add in the $1.1 million in support of Udall and Braley, one can safely say that Next Generation and Tom Steyer were roundly repudiated. And there is a very good reason for this. Next Generation is a single issue advocacy group, that of climate change. Poll after poll has shown that despite the doomsday messaging of such groups, climate change ranks low on the list of the concerns of voters.
There are other interesting facts to be gleaned from spending and election results regarding the apparently failed meme of the Republican “war on women.” Between Women Vote! and Planned Parenthood, these groups spent over $8.6 million in races in Colorado, Iowa, Alaska and Georgia only to lose. Emily’s List, another liberal women’s group dedicated to recruiting and endorsing pro-choice female candidates, spent over $784,000 supporting Natalie Tennant, Alison Lundergan-Grimes, Michelle Nunn, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Staci Appel- all losers. Conversely, Susan B Anthony List- a conservative women’s organization dedicated to recruiting and supporting pro-life candidates, supported the likes of Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, David Perdue and other winners on Election Day.
All this being said, unlike those on the Left I do not view the success or failures of these groups as totally indicative of the mood or sensibilities of the electorate. Because pro-life endorsed candidates may have won with the support of pro-life groups does not necessarily make the electorate “pro-life.” Likewise, because candidates supported by environmental groups lost does not mean that the electorate totally rejects the concept of climate change. Instead, it is an indication that their issues are simply not high on the list of the electorate’s priorities.
While the Left will rail against money in politics, they have become quite adept at using it. The problem is that they are picking the wrong battles with the wrong people. It is easy to blame something other than themselves for their electoral losses this cycle. And ironically, taken altogether, the success rate of independent group expenditures for or against candidates is still slightly under 50%. Despite the increased money in political advocacy by many groups, their success rate is roughly equal to that of a coin flip. Why? Because although there is certainly a small segment of the voting population that may be swayed by their messaging, an even larger majority are not. In most cases, they are merely preaching to the choir. And while the tone of messages has certainly been negative, it in no way approximates some of the negativity in campaigning in American electoral history. If George Soros, Tom Steyer, the Koch brothers or Shel Adelson want to spent billions on a 50/50 proposition, let them because in the end it is people- not dollar bills- pulling the voting levers and casting ballots.