Campaign Funding Absurdity

I happened to catch some of this Terry Gross interview with reporter Jane Mayer today in the car.

I wanted to drive to Vegas and get married just so I could finish listening to it.

Jane Mayer Interviews Billionaires So You Don’t Have To

So the gossip version of this story—the story about how Romney’s got several gajillion dollars more than Obama because of Citizen United—is that Obama has dissed George Soros, and refused to take pictures with donors, and set up donor events where his one-on-one schmooze time is drastically limited.

I’m not sure that’s such a problem. Are lefty donors so sensitive? Are they so ignorant of the priorities of this administration?

But Mayer has pointed out that the differences in fundraising mojo are in fact much deeper, much more ideological, and much more policy-based.

1. Obama and many fat-wallet lefties believe that the Citizen United decision was terrible for our country. They’re uncomfortable taking advantage of it.

2. Obama’s policies are not billionaire-friendly. They don’t hurt billionaires. Because seriously, how high a tax rate would there have to be to actually hurt a billionaire? But Romney’s and the GOP’s policies are billionaire-friendly.

“It’s very, very hard for the Democratic Party — any Democrat, not just Obama — to compete with the Republican Party for the super, super wealthy vote in this country because the Democrats aren’t offering policies that are as amenable to the super wealthy,” she says. “The Democrats want to keep the progressive taxation system, they want to regulate industries, they want to keep a social safety net in place.”

As Mayer puts it, getting Romney in office is good business for Richie Rich.

3. Romney skirts the Super PAC rules in a way that reminds me of a toddler exploiting a loophole. Or a teen cutting class in front of the principal’s office window.

He comes to the meeting, gives some pep talks to the donors, rubs some elbows, gladhandles some glad handles. And then he leaves. Far, far away. And then the Super PAC people solicit all those glad-handled, elbow-rubbed donors. But Romney didn’t coordinate with them. He just showed up at the meeting and stumped. And that’s legal, friends!

4. Obama is still king of the grass roots donations. And it turns out that fat-wallet lefties in search of ways to help the cause are eschewing Super PACs. Mayer says that they feel that Super PAC money will get them TV attack ads, but not much else. So they donate to ballot initiatives and other cause-specific organizations. Pulling a page from the GOP book and going aggressively local.

Update: Ezra Klein sees me the Mayer and raises me some charts. He adds an additional theory:

In 2008, Obama was most like them. He was a cool, cerebral, analytical, cosmopolitan, product of the Ivy League. He’s the sort of guy who might well have had a successful career on Wall Street. After eight years of the Bush administration and faced with the prospect of four years of John McCain, Wall Street wanted someone who they thought of as like them to clean up the mess. And what Wall Street wants, they spend a lot of money to get.

But in 2012, Mitt Romney is most like them. In fact, Romney is them. He worked in finance. He has a business degree from Harvard. He shares their hatred of deficits, their belief that the rich are being unfairly blamed for today’s problems, their conviction that their work is of great social value, their certainty that if only politicians were more like titans of finance and industry, the country would be in a far better place. Obama, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to respect them that much. And if there’s anything that’s fundamental to the finance class, it is self-respect.

Ezra and I (hah) wonder what this funding discrepancy means for the election. The dreaming kid in me wants the money not to matter. Elections are not won or lost with attack ads. They’re lost with more or less unchangeable situations like the unemployment rate. They’re won with debating, persuasion, the proper framing of an issue. The teeny tiny number of undecided voters.

How relevant is Super PAC money to this?

I guess the world will find out.

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