The rise of SuperPACs, the decision in Citizens United, and intensified polarization in Congress has ignited a flame under the already robust academic debate over the role of money in elections. Last week, Lee Drutman wrote an article for Vox outlining the recent contribution of Raymond J. La Raja and Brian Schaffner made to the debate with their book, Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail.
The crux of the book argues that allowing political parties to control more money, not less, is the key to reducing polarization. This runs counter to many pro-reform writings, focused chiefly on empowering small donors in order to counter big-money politics. La Raja and Schaffner counter this narrative, suggesting parties channel money to create moderation, rather than small donors, which are polarizing.
Drutman pushes back on both accounts by taking issue with some of the underlying assumptions in When Purists Prevail, including the weight they place on median voter theory and the extent parties will spend money on moderate candidates in primary elections. He marshals a host of recent research to support the critique, including: a recent Brookings paper on the strength of political parties, data on the power of outside money in congressional elections, and research showing moderate districts do not necessarily produce moderate candidates.
Free speech shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but it has been drawn into the larger dynamics of polarization in this country.