6. So you’ve got money and now you want to buy a Congressman? How much you got?
It is axiomatic that money matters in congressional politics. This causes interest groups, lobbyists and constituents to converge on Washington to try and manipulate policy closer to their preferred policy point. However, the proximate relationship between money politics and the Congress is more attenuated than simply financing policy positions of members. Above all the focus should not be on how one politician behaves but how the entire system behaves and how the entire system makes use of money that is often thrust upon them with ambiguous demands.
The primary objective sought from campaign spending is of course the control of political office. How much is contributed depends in large part on the value attached to the office. Members in key positions such as party leaders or committee chairs, attract substantially more contributions because of their prominence within the legislative arena. For everyone else contributions are given with the intention that once in office congressman will be more willing to hear their point of view.
Campaign spending largely if not entirely has a strong influence on how well candidates do at the polls. This is in part because the amount of money raised has to do with the perceived perception on how well candidates are expected to do on Election Day. This of course causes simultaneity problems. We cannot be certain that campaign spending has any effect at all on election outcomes because we cannot prove conclusively that results are not merely an artifact of well-informed contribution strategies that funnel the most money to the best challengers who would do just as well without it.
To complicate the effect of money as the sole determinative variable is that party strength and challenger quality may all act as proxies to election outcomes. Upshot is that voter’s decisions are not assumed to be affected by money per se; what matters is the quantity and content of information they acquire during the campaign. The assumption is that better financed campaigns project a higher volume of more persuasive messages, and this is the source of any direct connection between money and votes.
We can take solace in knowing that money does not literally buy votes in most elections. If it did, then campaign spending would be a simple and appropriate explanatory variable in models of election outcomes. Unfortunately, basic features of congressional elections make it difficult to determine precisely what effect campaigns and campaign spending has on the ultimate electoral outcomes. The literature is ambiguous on the wholesale effects of money and electoral outcomes so it would be overstating it to say that money is determinative and it would be naive to say that money does not matter.
Money should be understood in this perspective not as an attempt to alter the agenda through insurmountable financing but as a form of legislative subsidy towards strategically selected legislators. This troubling allegation that the entire institution suffers because money is donated for disreputable purposes creates a cynicism among the populace that in totality may be unwarranted.
Of course I may be totally off, but hey, its happens.