No Country for Self-Funders


I wonder if folks at the @sunfoundation realize they’re creating a system where only billionaires can get elected — Patrick Ruffini

That was a tweet sent the way of the Sunlight Foundation yesterday by transparency friend Patrick Ruffini. The only possible explanation I have for it is that Ruffini is criticizing our position on the DISCLOSE Act. I’m assuming that this is some new argument by the money equals speech crowd that if corporations and unions, who couldn’t advocate directly for the election or defeat of a lawmaker from between 1990 and 2010, suddenly found their new right to political spending tied up with disclosure requirements than non-billionaire candidates won’t run because they can’t afford to and so on and so on.

This is a terribly tired and poorly thought out argument. I expect better from the anti-DISCLOSE Act crowd.

From the point of view of Ruffini the period between 1990 and 2010, when direct corporate and union spending on electoral appeals was banned, must have been a far more draconian time than a potential future era where this advocacy is allowed but required to be disclosed. The suggestion that only billionaires can get elected implies that candidates will need to self-fund their campaigns. How did self-funders do in the elections during this most oppressed period?

(The most readily available data comes from the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections. We’ll have to just look at those years for now. And by self-funder, I mean someone who contributed a substantial amount of their own money to their campaign.)

In 2002 three out of thirty-two self-funding candidates for Congress won election. That’s a 9.37 percent success rate.

In 2004 a whopping one out of thirty self-funders won election to Congress. An even less impressive 3.33 percent success rate.

In 2006 five out of forty-two self-funders were elected. A more favorable 11.9 percent election rate.

The best year for self-funders by far was 2008 when eleven out of fifty-one won election. That’s a 21.56 percent success rate.

Out of the past four elections only 13 percent of all self-funders were elected to Congress. None of them were billionaires.

I guess you don’t have to be a billionaire to get elected. I don’t think that the imposition of disclosure requirements on activity that was illegal for twenty years is going to change that.

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  • While I know correlation doesn’t mean causation, it appears being a self-funder might be a liability running for Congress. ;)

    Having worked in elections, it’s certainly the anecdotal sentiment that self-funding is at best a non-factor and at worst a liability. One, it’s hard to relate to someone with that much liquid cash. Second, having to raise your own money among large groups of constituents confers all sorts of secondary benefits. The primary one being that large groups of people who donate to your campaign are much more likely to share their support with their friends or directly volunteer for the campaign.

    This election cycle will provide even more data on self-funders – per Politico we have a “bumper crop” with:

    “…11 percent of the combined $657 million raised by all 2010 candidates has come in the way of self-financing — nearly double the 6 percent measured at the same juncture in the 2006 midterm, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.”