This week's begging letter comes from Sharron Angle, a Nevada legislator seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Reid next year. It comes with the inevitable hyperbole, calling the Majority Leader "conservatives' number one enemy," but the interesting thing about the entire pitch is the way that Angle makes a convincing case for more campaign finance reform, only to miss her own point.
Angle contends that Reid is unpopular in his own state and has been so consistently during his tenure in the Senate. She cites polls that indicate that a plurality of Nevadans would vote to unseat him. Assuming all this to be correct, how does he stay on? The answer, Angle argues, is money: out-of-state money that pours in from "special interests" who expect favors from Reid. This money consistently tips the balance in Reid's favor by Election Day.
To review: Angle contends that out-of-state campaign donations so distort Nevada elections that a man who is unpopular in his own state can nevertheless keep getting elected to the U.S. Senate. Let's assume that she's correct. What, then, would be the best way to correct this distortion of the actual will of Nevadans? Common sense might suggest legislation forbidding out-of-state donations. That would get those nefarious special interests out of the picture, right?
That's not the conclusion Angle draws. Her remedy for Reid's reliance on Democratic special-interest money is to call for Republican special-interest money from out of state. She isn't as greedy as other Republican beggars, since she contends that a mere double-digit donation in a small state like Nevada is equivalent to hundreds or thousands of dollars in a large-state campaign. But she obviously doesn't get the point of her own complaint. If the object is to get at the actual desires of Nevadans without the distractions of propaganda funded from outside, Angle proposes to cancel out Reid's unfair advantage with her own out-of-state propaganda. Maybe she does think that each side's out-of-state donors would cancel each other out and leave Nevadans to figure things out for themselves. But it's more likely that she's succumbed to a certain kind of American Bipolarchy logic that makes every local election a national election in which everyone in America, or at least everyone adhering to the two dominant ideologies, is entitled to a voice. According to such logic, no legislator represents his or her state or district alone, but also and above all the national ideological constituency, which would, perhaps ironically, make Reid's "special interest" donors no more "special" than those whom Angle is asking for money.
It's even more likely, however, that Angle is just incapable of thinking of a political campaign, no matter how local, separately from the imperative of raising money from as wide an area as possible. Fundraising is virtually an end in itself for most politicians today, and not everything Angle collects will go toward attacking Reid. It turns out that Angle will face at least three opponents in the Republican senatorial primary, so some of the money you might send in the hope of financing a hard-charging attack ad against Reid will actually go toward attacking other conservative Republicans. Already, at least one of her fellow Republicans has objected to Angle characterizing herself in her begging letter as "the conservative candidate," as if there were no other conservatives seeking the nomination. It's also quite possible that your conscientious donation will end up paying some campaign worker's salary beyond the needs of Angle's campaign.
Angle apparently never got the memo from conservative apologists who've argued that since money never really makes a difference in campaigns, corrupting neither politicians nor voters, campaign donations should never be subject to regulation. In her hostility to Harry Reid and what he supposedly stands for, she readily concedes the point that most opponents of campaign finance reform dispute. But she gives no indication of favoring the sort of reforms that might, based on her own account, give her more of a chance to defeat Reid, and as a Republican she most likely opposes the entire concept of campaign finance regulation. This makes me wonder whether she's really more interested in defeating Reid than in raising money for herself. That's a question you can ask about most politicians in either major party. This post is not an attack on Sharron Angle as a Republican or a conservative, but a comment on someone who thinks she gets it about modern politics, but doesn't.