Consider two possibilities.
- Campaign spending has a negligible effect on election outcomes.
- The voting public is so ignorant and impressionable that campaign spending can readily sway an election.
Empirically 1) is more defensible; the “vast empirical literature” supports the conclusion that there is no effect of campaign spending on election outcomes. But let’s assume 2) for the moment. In that case, the problem is far too deep to be solved by “campaign finance reform.” Assuming that an election can be bought under free-wheeling “campaign finance policy 1” but reverts to the other candidate under a more restrictive “campaign finance policy 2”, it’s not at all clear that the more restrictive regime is better than the freer one. It’s not clear that the 1 gives you better policies, or that the results of 1 are imbued with greater moral virtue. If “the will of the people” is swayed by such a trivial influence, we need to doubt whether that’s even a meaningful concept. Dumb, impressionable voters pick bad policies. It’s no consolation that they weren’t influenced by money. Remove the influence of money, and some other meretricious influence will take its place.
Consider several ways that politics is unfairly biased in a way that can lead to bad policy:
Money influences politics, far beyond the actual merit of the policies it wins.
Public sector unions influence politics, far beyond the actual merit of the policies they win.
Sympathetic interest groups influence politics, far beyond the actual merit of the policies they win.
Economic populism influences politics, far beyond the actual merit of the policies it wins.
(Similar parallel structures for religion, defense hawkishness, nationalism, etc.)
Money is not the only thing that exerts an undue influence over politics. It’s not even the most destructive biasing influence.