Here’s the post: Game theory and the Super PACs. Levine points to the recent shift in campaign finance focus from the presidency to Congress, and adds nuance to a debate that is frequently overrun by absolutist intuitions:
No wonder Karl Rove is spending his money on behalf of Senate Republicans. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that conservative super-PACS were spending $10 million/week on behalf of Mitt Romney until a few weeks ago, but they are down to just $2.07 million in the last week. CRP also calculates that Restore Our Future has spent $84 million on congressional races, American crossroads has spent $34 million, and Americans for prosperity has spent $31 million. Meanwhile, an industry like financial services (including real estate and insurance) demonstrates how to distribute your cash if you are mainly concerned about your own after-tax profits plus mollifying the winner. They’ve given $221 million to Republicans, of which only $29 million had gone to Romney. They have also given $116 million to Democrats, including an ingratiating $12 million to Obama.
I’d only add two points. First, if there’s any influence to be bought in an election, it’s likely that it is in the form of early money. So even though I’ve taken this article as evidence of the rent-seeking hypothesis of campaign finance (that the money follows the winner rather than determining the winner) I also think that politicans and funders have long understood the wisdom built into the acronym of EMILY’s List: “Early Money is Like Yeast; It Makes the Dough Grow.” Another way game theory impacts campaign finance is through signaling theory: large donors will want to signal their loyalty to a party and a candidate early and in a way that involves real sacrifice if they’re to have any hope of having real influence. So when we think about the intersection of affluence and influence, or when we evaluate the effects of Citizen’s United, we might want to ignore the massive gross receipts and focus on how early donors leverage their crucial support. Money given during moments of uncertainty can come with many more strings than money given to a candidate who thinks she’s going to win. This would also be more evidence that financing limits are less effective than we might hope: the real benefits of campaign finance would be from throwing in relatively cheap support early.
The Super PAC expenditure difference between Democratic and Republican PACs was just a little under that: $60 million. So on one scenario, we’d expect Romney to do 1/3 of a percent better than he would have done under conditions of more equal spending. Of course, if there are key districts, then the Super PACs could devote all their resources just to those, and they wouldn’t have to deflate their funding quite so broadly. This is what Levine suggests they have done. Yet 538 lists the Democratic likelihood of keeping the Senate at 79.9%, twice what it was at the end of August! That’s not definitive proof against the power of money in statewide races, of course. If this bounce was always coming, then the Super PACs may have blunted it: perhaps the Democrats would be looking at a likely 5 seat majority instead. But it does lend additional support to the claim that it’s not the finance totals that are doing the majority of the work.
In my view, the Republicans simply can’t generate enough money to buy this election. At the same time, I am quite sure that the financial services industry has spent enough money, in the right ways, to prevent rigorous and sensible regulation of their industry. Hmmm… there’s a thought: if Republican donors really want to win, they’d be better off skipping the Super PACs and spending their money to short the stock market to create a massive crash this October. But I’m betting they won’t.
Postscript-Levine’s two posts before this one were also pretty great. Levine is very often interesting, but he’s been on a roll again. (We’re friends on Facebook, but “liking” these doesn’t quite give them the appreciation they deserve.) :
- Not a post, per se, but a New York Times article on non-college youth: Struggling Young Adults Pose a Challenge for Campaigns. CIRCLE’s report was the impetus for the article, and Levine is quoted: “Extensive research shows that if you ask young people to volunteer or vote, they respond at high rates.” 60% of American young people will attempt college in some form, but only about half of them will attain a bachelors degree, so there’s good reason to worry that civic engagement is heavily correlated with educational attainment. What can we do to correct that trend? (CIRCLE has some ideas.)
- Ideology in the Chicago Teacher’s Strike is a pretty phenomenal fact-checking on some of the broader ideological analyses of the CTU strike:
I am basically on the teachers’ side, but that is because I share many of their substantive views of testing, funding, and the curriculum. I do not find it helpful to describe them as progressive and the mayor as neoliberal and to read the strike as a showdown between those two movements. The questions should be taken one at a time: How should we assess teachers? How long should the school day be? How much do we need to spend per student? And how is the available money being allocated?