How Campaign Money Is Spent
HERE IS WHAT we learned from Tuesday’s election about how the political system works — for Indiana Republicans anyway.
First, you need to imagine for a moment that you are among the most effective Indiana Republicans, that is, that you are wealthy. And presume that as most Republicans your political values generally follow those of the Founding Fathers, that is, a respect for private property and personal liberty.
That means you are proud that you live in a country where wealth can be earned and managed in ways based on productivity rather than the ability to cage special favors. You are not, however, fanatical about it. You have a business to run and a family for which to care.
Nonetheless, you want to do something to help ensure that your children and grandchildren also will live in such a country. You are told that the best way to do that is support a political party, and you have found someone, a Republican running for a House seat, who promises to share your values. He asks that you donate $10,000 to his campaign.
Now, you are right to be curious as to what happens to that ten grand, your money, and here is where things begin to get ugly.
The first thing will be that if your donation becomes public you will be characterized by the corporate media if not your hometown newspaper as a political extremist. Nobody in the GOP leadership will stand up for you, nor will you be be able to repeal this judgment no matter how clear you make your ideological position. You and your family will have to live with it.
Second, a great part of your donation will be absorbed by a private and somewhat mysterious entity called the House Republican Campaign Committee (more about that later). That money can be used to support whomever the committee deems worthy.
Please know that who is deemed worthy may not conform to the values that motivated your donation. In fact, in this week’s primary election, dollars such as yours — three quarters of a million worth — were used to drive out the two most conservative state legislators. One of them initiated arguably the most principled bill of the Supermajority Era, allowing Hoosiers to carry a firearm as a matter of constitutional right rather than administrative permission.
The two were high scorers on IndianaScorecard.org, an independent measure of Indiana House and Senate votes that affect private property and personal liberty. For comparison, the Speaker of the Indiana House, who represents affluent central Indiana suburbs, does not break 50 percent on the scorecard.
Also know that all of this will happen regardless of whether your candidate fulfills his promises to you — a rare outcome — or even contacts you again until the next fundraising campaign. That means, of course, that your entire donation could be for naught.
Worse, your campaign donation might be used to send a warning to the representatives of other Indiana districts, to wit, that if they consistently vote on absolute principle rather than the recommendations of leadership they will be kicked out and their constituencies in effect disenfranchised. And if this week’s primary is the rule, that is not a threat, it is a certainty. Who can overcome being both redistricted and a 5:1 funding disadvantage?
Anyway, now comes the important part: You will want to know who made those decisions on the use of your money.
Tough luck. Nobody can tell you — not for certain, not during any given session. The House Republican Campaign Committee, better known as the HRCC, is a private political campaign group that operates as a PAC under Indiana state law. Its funding is funneled — some would say laundered — through the members of the Republican Caucus of the Indiana House of Representatives.
Members are introduced to donors at events conducted by the HRCC, which instructs the contributors to make their payments to their candidates’ individual campaign accounts. However, the legislators are subsequently billed by the HRCC for half of the take. Additionally, members can be required to make contributions to the HRCC from donations they arrange on their own. Even more money may be generated by events featuring the Speaker of the House or some other member of leadership who interests lobbyists.
These different payments to the HRCC aggregate to over $10 million each election cycle. The money is theoretically there to defend Republicans representatives in general elections against challenges from Democrats. Increasingly, they have been deployed in primary races, and as we just saw this week against incumbent Republicans who fall out of favor with leadership.
How can this be? Since the HRCC has relieved its members of the drudgery of fundraising, it can command legislators to vote for the programs it is running. Outside money from an amorphous and for practical purposes anonymous collection of lobbyist and shielded interests is piped into the system through the Speaker or the various leaders, whips and committee heads. The point is to make sure the GOP caucus members are working together all along the line to accomplish what these special interests have in mind.
In any particular session, that may be for more highway funding, Sunday alcohol sales or an expansion of the state’s economic development corporation. Nobody knows. It depends on who has the most intense interest in gaining government favor — rent-seekers, the economists call them. All you know for sure is that it is unlikely to have much to do with anything that prompted your donation.
Your representative, his constituents be damned, will maneuver overtly or covertly to go along with the scheme since it nearly guarantees him the thing he wants most (re-election) at virtually no cost or effort.
I know, I know. What did we think, that politics was tiddlywinks? Still, all of this considered, you might do more good next time throwing your money into the street. — tcl