Much discussion these days about the role of money in politics, and assertions about the need to limit that role; for example, this NYT article expresses grave concern that “just 158 families” have contributed $176 million in the first phases of the 2016 campaign.
I’m not sure that these early contributions are a very good indicator for the spending pattern throughout the overall election cycle, particularly this year, with a Crown Princess already having been largely anointed by the Democrats. (I note, for example, that Tom Steyer, who has been a huge contributor to Left-leaning causes in the past, does not appear on the NYT’s list. There are surely many individuals who are biding their time before contributing in a big way.)
But more importantly, there is something missing from the NYT article and from discussions of money in politics in general, and that is the role of contributions in kind.
How much money would somebody have to spend on advertising to equal the effect of the NYT’s support of a particular candidate? How expensive would it be to create a marketing program equivalent in impact to a television network’s support of a particular political ideology, which may well encompass messages in entertainment programs as well as slants of news and opinion? Hard to estimate such numbers in any meaningful way, but surely the costs would be very, very high. In effect, a highly skewed political/ideological position by a media corporation is a contribution in kind to a candidate, party, or at least a political world-view.
It strikes me that the effect of tightened limits on political spending would not at all be to “remove the impact of money in politics,” but rather to privilege the impact of a certain kind of money…ie, to privilege the wealth owed or controlled by publishers, network executives, media owners and major shareholders, and the founders and senior executives of certain Internet-based business over the wealth owned and controlled by people involved in energy, manufacturing, transportation, etc.