With Michael Bloomberg spending hundreds of millions of dollars pushing gun control, the debate over campaign finance laws and gun control have become closely linked. Just this past November, Bloomberg spent 1/13th as much money on two state Senate races in Virginia as the NRA spent on all campaigns during the entire 2013-14 election cycle. John Lott’s newest piece in the New York Post doesn’t deal specifically with Bloomberg’s expenditures, but with the broader issue of campaign finance limits.
If the Supreme Court limited the power of government by interpreting the 2nd Amendment to mean what most people mean by the term “shall not infringe,” Bloomberg wouldn’t be spending this money. The more power the government has, the more money is spent on campaigns. Lott’s article in the New York Post explains why that is the case more generally. So the next time people complain about campaign expenditures being too large, agree with them and suggest that the solution is to make government smaller. Reducing not only spending, but also government’s ability to regulate. Lott’s piece starts this way:
He hammered away during Sunday’s Democratic debate, complaining about people “pouring unbelievable sums of money into the political process.” According to estimates made by the Center for Responsive Politics, $3.77 billion was spent on elections for federal office during the 2014 midterms.
Sanders blames this on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, prohibiting the government from restricting independent political spending by unions, corporations and advocacy groups. But the growth rate in campaign spending long predates that case, and has actually slowed down since that decision.
There was only a 4 percent increase in spending from the 2010 to the 2014 midterm elections. So much for Sanders’ “explosion.”
In fact, this rate of growth was unusually small — much smaller than the 31 percent average growth that usually took place between midterm congressional elections from 1998 to 2010.
So what really causes political spending to increase over time? The answer won’t make Sanders very happy.
The truth is that government expenditures and campaign expenditures have increased in tandem. Total campaign spending soared from $1.6 billion in 1998 to $3.77 billion in 2014. Federal government spending rose at virtually the same rate, going from $1.65 trillion to $3.9 trillion.
With more at stake, it makes sense for there to be an even bigger fight over who controls the federal government. If federal spending still amounted to 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP — as it did a century ago — people likely wouldn’t care as passionately about the outcome of most elections.
In the Journal of Law and Economics in 2000, I looked at the years 1976 to 1994 and studied expenditures on gubernatorial and state legislative campaigns. Almost 80 percent of the increase in campaign spending could be explained by the growth of state governments. . . .
The rest of the piece is available here.