An editorial in this morning's New York Times, "Drowning in Campaign Cash," laments how much money is being spent on politics. "The amount is staggering: Nearly $4 billion is likely to be spent once the final figures are in," the Times complains.
It reminded me of the December 3, 2007, editorial of the New York Sun, "The Bargain of Democracy," written in response to a similar New York Times Sunday editorial lamenting the money spent on the 2008 election, which at the time the Times editorialists were estimating at $5 billion.
The 2007 Sun editorial noted that on a per capita basis, "The billions in projected spending may correspond to a scant $17 for every American, or about $8.50 a year, less than a movie and about the same as two venti peppermint mochas at Starbucks." It went on, "Nevermind that for this, Americans get democracy. At $5 billion, democracy is a bargain."
The Sun editorial went on to note that "Dozens of companies each spend billions of dollars advertising annually. According to Advertising Age, advertising expenditures of $1.2 billion in 2005, let alone a few hundred million dollars, would not have landed an advertiser in the top 25. Procter and Gamble spent some $3.9 billion on advertising in America in 2005 and nearly $8 billion worldwide."
David Malpass recently noted that the Federal Reserve is making "$100 billion or so per year in profit." Isn't 4% of the Fed's annual profits a reasonable amount of money to spend on electing the Congress, that, under the Constitution, has the power to regulate the value of the dollar that the Fed is debasing?
The Federal budget itself for 2010 is more than $3.5 trillion. We can't recall the last New York Times editorial describing that figure as "staggering"; in fact the paper has been plumping for even more spending as "stimulus" for the economy. Since Congress authorizes and appropriates the spending of that money, $4 billion seems a tiny sum to spend on choosing the people who will spend the $3.5 trillion.
At least the "staggering" $4 billion has the advantage of being given for the most part (except from that extracted by politicians from officials of businesses they regulate or spend money on) freely and voluntarily, which is more than can be said for the Times's editorially recommended alternative of taxpayer financed electioneering that would force Americans to subsidize through their tax dollars the views of candidates they disagree with.
Nor does the Times disclose how much money it spends on hiring its editorial writers to write editorials endorsing mostly left-wing candidates, and on printing and delivering those editorials throughout the country. Or on its news reporters who put their own spin on the campaign. What the paper is really afraid of is that its own spending on influencing elections might eventually be drowned out by the spending of others. That's an argument for spending more on politics, not less.
The Times complains that "the new world of unlimited spending, both open and secret, confers huge benefits on wealthy individuals, corporations and unions." But the Times itself is a corporation, controlled by wealthy individuals such as the members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family who own the paper and their financial backer, a Mexican, Carlos Slim, who Forbes ranks as the world's richest man. What the campaign finance limits the Times advocates would do is magnify the Ochs-Sulzberger-Slim voice (unlimited under the First Amendment freedom of the press) at the expense of everyone else's voice. The Times editorial complains that the protections offered to political speech are "a direct creation of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.," but in fact they are a direct creation of the same First Amendment to the Constitution that protects the Times.