2010: The Case Against Self-Funding

Confirming rumors, California gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner announced today he's donating $15 million to his own campaign because he wants to "communicate my message of bold 10% tax cuts, a 10% reduction in state spending, creating a $10 billion rainy day fund, and I will cut our welfare spending so that it is in line with the national average or better. We have 30% of the nation's welfare recipients and only 12% of the population. That's change for the better and a message that I am confident will resonate with Republican voters."

CW holds that self-funding candidates aren't corruptible, or aren't seen as corruptible, and that voters like that. In fact, the CW holds that the perception of election-buying is counter-influenced by the independence that self-funders bring to the campaign finance process. However, as Patrick Ruffini notes in what I bet will turn out to be a very prescient post, "when a mega-self-funder gets in, people get bought. Local parties are capitalized to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars with endorsements magically appearing shortly thereafter." And it's not just elected officials and local parties: it's interest groups, advocacy organizations -- even charities -- that wealthy folks can hijack. The public DOES seem to be cognizant of this subtle wheel-greasing, and they don't like it.

Another point Ruffini makes is worth emphasizing: in a cycle where ideological purity is going to be particularly privileged in primaries, self-funders can be "political chameleons." Relying on donors is one way to advance ideological solidarity. Relying on your own bank account breeds independence -- or an overreliance on your campaign team.