By Ralph Benko
The left is going after big money in politics now in a big way. Actually, it is trying to delegitimize the funding by free market heroes such as Charles and David Koch while sanitizing its own. One of the problems with the left critique, however, is that there isn’t too much money, big or otherwise, in politics. There’s too little. Follow along.
There also is a Tide in the affairs of Women and tens of millions of homemakers (including this one), men and women both. That Tide is the leading laundry detergent. Last year, Proctor and Gamble, the world’s leading household products company, launched a new version of Tide: Tide Pods. P&G backed the product introduction with $150 million. And therein lies a political lesson.
Washington is awash with, perhaps besieged by, policy advocates. And there is a persistent urban legend, or at least a Forlorn Hope, that a great idea somehow will by itself change the course of Western Civilization … or at least politics. That’s nonsense. It takes a huge effort, backed by a lot of money, to change the course of the mighty river that is the federal government.
P&G’s practices can help dispel the myth. P&G grossed $82 billion last year. Just to put that in perspective, P&G’s gross revenue puts it ahead of (using 2010 figures) 14 of the states of the United States, nosed out of 37th place by Nebraska but comfortably ahead of 38th place Colorado.
P&G, which cannot rest on its laurels, reportedly spends about $2 billion a year in research and development. Several years ago it decided to create a new version of Tide, an iconic brand that itself yields P&G over $3 billion a year in revenues. Introducing a variant of even such a iconic product was no trivial matter.
P&G committed to spending $150 million in promoting the product launch. That was on top of what Yahoo! Finance reports involved hundreds of millions of dollars in product development costs. $150 million would fund a whole lot of policy advocacy or political campaigns. And that was spent for one variation on one product.
Pan to Washington, DC. The federal government is, in effect, a megacorporation. Progressives like to think that corporations are bad and the megacorporation that is the federal government is good. This left-wing Creed empirically speaking is mystifying if one but makes a cost/benefit analysis of most government services. That said, a creed, by definition, is not empirically based.
Uncle Sam, as of 2012, projected $3.6 trillion a year of spending momentum. The federal government has the aggregate force of more than 40 Proctor and Gambles. A presidential campaign can, in some respects, be likened to the government’s political R&D program.
By extrapolating P&G’s R&D budget, a presidential campaign appropriately would cost around $80 billion, arguably four times that. And yet, the last presidential election involved, by the Center for Responsive Politics measure, only $6 billion. To put that further in perspective, that’s less than … $20 per American spent on average. (Admittedly, Republican superconsultants badly misspend their share. The left spends its treasure far more intelligently.) $6 billion represents around two tenths of one percent of the federal government’s expenditures. P&G, which spends at least 20 times that rate for R&D, presumably would laugh ruefully at the paltriness of it.
If anything, America spends far too little, rather than too much, on politics and policy. That isn’t stopping the left, as Mother Jones just reports, from attempting to reinterpret the First Amendment out of all recognizable meaning by to get the “big money out of politics.”
Mother Jones, January 9, 2013, Revealed: The Massive new Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics
“It was the kind of meeting that conspiratorial conservative bloggers dream about.
“A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. … [T]he meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.
“At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues….”
The plan revealed by Mother Jones is fiendishly brilliant. Cripple by pretext the First Amendment rights of citizens such as Charles and David Koch, and Sheldon Adelson, from meaningfully supporting their ideals in the public square; expand the voter pool by enfranchising voters who likely will disproportionately support the Progressive agenda; and dynamite the greatest process obstacle to the adoption of the Full Monty Progressive Agenda. This strategy is worthy of a criminal genius of the stature of Lex Luthor.
The stakes couldn’t be higher nor the left’s tactics more sophisticated. “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.” So said columnist Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley in 1895. Update this sentiment with the recognition that the women playing the game of political hardball at the most senior level — strategists like Ilyse Hogue and Becky Bond — now are the MVPs. But the core insight remains true: politics ain’t bean-bag.
The control over trillions of dollars, the fortunes of millions of souls, the very course of history, is at stake. Men like Charles and David Koch were among the first on the right to grasp the implications of this. They also show rare discernment of the fact that Newton’s Second Law of motion applies to policy and politics as well as it does to physics:
“If a force generates a motion, a double force will generate double the motion, a triple force triple the motion, whether that force be impressed altogether and at once, or gradually and successively. And this motion (being always directed the same way with the generating force), if the body moved before, is added to or subtracted from the former motion, according as they directly conspire with or are directly contrary to each other; or obliquely joined, when they are oblique, so as to produce a new motion compounded from the determination of both.” (Motte’s 1729 translation of Newton.)
Meaning: money matters. The left, of course, is being disingenuous about taking money out of politics. It, understandably, wishes to blunt the forces of the right while remaining unconstrained in injecting its own force vectors on the prize: control of almost $4 trillion in government spending. The left routinely outspends the right. The conservative movement’s flagship Heritage Foundation reports an annual budget of $82 million. The Progressive battleship National Education Association has an annual budget of around $370 million … and the NEA is only one of many, many heavily funded entities that give muscle to the Progressive movement.
One can’t redirect a multi-trillion dollar entity with nothing but good ideas, eloquence, and gallantry. Those who wish to see their ideals reflected in government policy have a constitutional right … and a civic duty … to underwrite, generously, the advocates, institutions, and candidates of their choice. The left seeks the funding advantage. If it seizes it, whether by cunning or by virtue of more, and more generous, donors, the left will shape the future of America very much to its own vision. And the right will have nobody but itself to blame. Only a modest handful of substantial donors truly have risen to the cause of human dignity. Will others?
No matter how hard the left tries to paint it black the money fielded for advocacy of free markets and defense of constitutional liberties such as the free exercise of religion certainly is as legitimate as the money projected by the left in its Massive new Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics. Arguably, it is even more legitimate. There is not too much money in politics. There is too little.
Ralph Benko, an economics policy expert living and working in Washington, DC, served on detail as deputy general counsel to an Executive Office of the President agency under President Reagan and to a Reagan presidential commission