In certain places in a city, at certain times, you come to expect certain panhandlers. You've seen them often enough that you recognize them on sight. On one corner in my town there's a heavyset woman who asks everyone for a quarter. On Lark Street there's an old guy who holds out his hand and babbles incoherently. In my P.O. box, meanwhile, I find Sharron Angle, the "Official Republican Nominee to Defeat Senator Harry Reid." She's sent me another begging letter explaining that she needs "a million man strong grassroots army backing me up." As if anticipating the query "why is a Nevada U.S. Senate race my business?" Angle explains that "no matter where you live in America, Harry Reid is having a direct negative impact on you and your family." According to Angle, I should expect, if I represent an average family, an extra $258 each month on energy bills because of a "'cap and trade' tax" advocated by Reid." A campaign solicitation doesn't oblige her to cite a source for that figure, apparently. In any event, for that reason I, a New Yorker, should give Angle money to campaign against the incumbent.
While "Harry Reid's career is on life support," Angle confides that "I simply can't win this race unless I have the support of thousands conservatives [sic] like you who are fed up with Harry Reid's attacks on your values." That's because Reid has "a war chest of more than $15 million" and the services of Bill Clinton as a "junkyard dog," whatever that means. Reid "has been able to dole out favors and scratch backs for scores of special interests that have bought and paid for him," Angle claims. I'm not inclined to doubt that, but should I infer that I am buying and paying for Sharron Angle by giving her money? Or should I be reassured that I am not a "special interest?" I like to think we're all special in this great country of ours, so I don't know what to assume.
For that matter, how do I read this statement? "My friend, I would not be writing you this letter unless I honestly knew I could win this race. But I simply cannot do this without your immediate help of at least $35 today." Doesn't the second sentence contradict the first? If Angle doesn't have the money she needs right now, how can she know she can win? If my decision to withhold my $35 can doom her campaign, it must be in very precarious condition. If Reid is on life-support, Angle must be in a medically-induced coma.
Like many begging letters, Angle's latest is an admission that money can decide a political campaign. She pleads from the premise that Reid, while unpopular with his own people in Nevada, can win re-election by spending enough money to smear Angle and deceive voters with campaign ads. For her part, Angle "must effectively highlight Reid's liberal record over and over again to the voters in the critical weeks ahead," but needs my money to do it. So the worst candidate can prevail through advertising and the best will fail without it. This is exactly what Republicans deny when anyone claims that campaign donations can buy an election. They insist that campaign advertising and the size of a candidate's war chest are not decisive while insisting on the necessity for democracy of an unlimited right to make campaign donations. Meanwhile, Angle begs for donations by claiming that Reid's war chest will decide the campaign if she can't match it, that Reid's "special interest" backers will have bought the election if she doesn't manage to outbid them.
The fact is that the candidate with the biggest war chest doesn't always win the election. It follows from that that any candidate can raise more money than she really needs, since additional fundraising won't convert automatically to additional popularity or votes. On the other hand, is there a minimum amount a candidate should have in a war chest to be successful? If there is, then money has too much influence on elections. Between the burden of filling a minimal war chest and the futility of excessive fundraising, all candidates spend too much time on fundraising and too much money on advertising. Sharron Angle's campaign should stand or fall (fall, preferably) on the merits of her platform, and so should Harry Reid's. If anything else influences the outcome, the influence is counter the to ideals of democratic republicanism. Angle wants to complain about Reid's unfair advantage in fundraising, but blames it on bad people ("special interests") instead of a bad system. How much of a reformer will she be, then, if she insists on playing Reid's game?