As I mentioned yesterday, I’d communicate some of my personal objections to the proposed caucus system for nominating candidates. This is the first. In a general overview before I get started, here’s how I’ll present the post. Claim – Retort 1, Retort 2…Retort x. In doing so, I hope to directly engage the arguments made by proponents and present clear, factually based retorts. That said, let’s get started!
Claim: The caucus system will prevent expensive Republican primaries and save more money for the general election.
The basic logic goes that removing the need to communicate with a million voters in a statewide election will remove the need to spend millions in a primary election contest. No need for expensive commercials. No need for expensive direct mail. No need for all the t-shirts, kitsch, and swag that comes with campaigning. Less overall money is spent, and therefore candidates with fewer resources can reasonably compete against “established” candidates.
Retort 1: It’s factually wrong to make the claim that candidates with “less money” operate on an evened playing field.
One state that proponents of the caucuses point to is Utah, where 2010 saw then Sen. Bob Bennett ousted on the heels of a state convention that turned against him. Thanks to the nominating convention, Utah is not represented by a “proper” conservative Sen. Mike Lee. Now, inevitably proponents will show that Bennett spent over $1 million from the 2009 year-end to the preconvention reports. They will also likely point to Tim Bridgewater spending only $174, 024 and Mike Lee spending only $82,803 and say “See! We told you so!” However, a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, the amount of money available to Bennett demonstrates that, in and of itself, money is not removed from the convention nominating process. Incumbency, as Bennett shows, has a large part to do with that ability of big money donors from contributing. Also, the fact that Orrin Hatch learned from Bennett’s mistakes and outspent his opponent in 2012 nearly 10-1, nearly winning the convention nomination outright with 59.2% of the delegate votes, demonstrates that big money still influences. Second, those campaign report totals ignore the reality that outside groups pumped thousands into the race to the tune of $793,554; Bennett never received a supportive dollar of that. Third, if you’ve never heard of these folks – Cherilyn Eagar, Merrill Cook, Leonard Fabiano, Jeremy Friedbaum, David Chiu – they never had the big money support the other three guys did, and therefore crashed out in the first round of voting at the convention.
Quite plainly, big money influences caucus elections all the same as primary elections. Oh yeah, I almost forgot – Mike Lee nearly lost at the convention as well. Bridgewater won 57% of the convention delegates, but lost the subsequent primary election 49%-51%.
Retort 2: The proper measure is dollar per votes, not total dollars spent, and you can buy a whole lot of votes with a whole lot less money…
In the previous election for Governor, Republicans had 658,499 votes cast in the first round. Let’s just take the top four contenders and evaluate how much they spent on their campaign and how much per vote received they spent.Just taking the four real contenders in the race, Handel received 231,990, Deal received , Johnson received , and Oxendine received .
Just for the sake of conversation, let’s suppose a statewide candidates spend an average of these four candidates – $10.38 – on, say, roughly 2,500 people attending the convention in various fashions. That would literally mean they are going to spend only $25,000 during the primary process, especially when each of the candidates raised near or more than $2,000,000?? Sorry, folks, but you’re lying to yourself if you believe that is what is going to happen. The amount of money that candidates can spend on a very minute share of the voting population that can influence that election will be ridiculous. Orrin Hatch is the perfect example of that. “Big Money” isn’t the raw amount you spend. Often times better run campaigns simply spend and raise less because they cannot afford largesse.
Retort 3: …and while we’re talking about dollars spent per vote, it’s a bit harder to trace and monitor transparently when we’re talking about conventions and caucuses.
The law is pretty clear – you cannot pay people to vote. O.C.G.A. § 21-2-570 says:
Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony.
That said, candidates are free to spend money on television, mail, volunteers, parties, festivals, balloon animals, and a whole slew of other activities that campaigns engage in. Now, imagine all that money spent on a voting population that comprises less than 1% of the general Republican electorate statewide. It wouldn’t be difficult for a campaign to spend $50,000 on a pre-convention party with open bars, diverse delectables, and a slew of other goodies. Or how about wining and dining county delegations in the runup to the convention; a candidate would only have to conceivably spend $125,000 to take every registered delegate to a $50 dinner. Would offering to pay hotel rooms be too far? It’s hard to say votes are “bought” that way.
Furthermore, you cannot draw that line on spending limits per delegate for a couple of reasons. First, Buckley v. Valeo struck down spending limits as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. Secondly, it just seems rather un-Republican to start finding out ways we can pass state laws to “make things fair” when we know that state law has a tendency to create unintended consequences.
The amount of money and influence that can reasonably be peddled will be astonishing. The money donors will give is still available; donors won’t stop giving just because the state instituted a new nominating process. And, even if they do, it won’t reduce the influence of big money. The amount of money spent on each “voter” will just increase the likelihood of corruption and graft in the nominating process. Then, of course, there’s this little tidbit of analysis coming from the National Journal in discussing the nominating of religious conservative E.W. Jackson:
Blame Cuccinelli, who steered the party away from holding a potentially more competitive primary and toward a convention that ensured his nomination but left the lieutenant governor’s slot up to only a few thousand hard-core activists to fill.