Many Americans will spend October stoking fear and building tension, with no shortage of blood-curdling screams. Then there’s Halloween.
Over a two-year period, more than $9 billion will be spent on Election 2022. Money will be thrown at Americans to get them to choose between political candidates and parties, just like it will be spent on Marvel costumes, candy corn, and the rest. Between the midterm elections and Halloween celebrations, U.S. spending will total upwards of $20 billion, dominating public discourse.
While Halloween spending is driven by market demand and impervious to criticism (as it should be), election-related spending drives some people crazy. Spending money to promote your ideas is far scarier than Halloween to those whose ideas your particular spending may oppose.
Campaign finance “reform” is now a top priority of the Democratic Party, with End Citizens United spokesman Adam Bozzi claiming “it’s both good policy and good politics.” (Side note: End Citizens United, as a nonprofit organization, does not disclose its own donors.)
The Left’s insistence on shutting down free speech and free association is strangely obsessive when it comes to politics. It seems like only speech and association that has to do with the electoral system and the democratic process are worth condemning, despite the fact that they form the very foundations of our democracy.
What is democracy but your freedom to organize and communicate on behalf of your ideas? And yes, meaningful communication requires spending money—something Democrats have no problem with, so long as their ideas are being communicated.
But, as long as you’re not spending money on politics, it’s quite alright. And, yes, a Marvel Halloween is quite alright. Consumerism is a good thing, just like money in politics is a good thing. In fact, American politics needs more money in it, not less, because political spending is associated with the free flow of ideas. It is a reflection of public discourse in the idea marketplace, with the most popular ones (like Marvel) dominating the discourse while the least popular ones (sorry Green Lantern) ultimately fade away. Similarly, candy choices with the most appeal attract the most consumer dollars, while the organic alternatives get thrown away.
That’s the whole point. The market is the ultimate freedom: Taking the product of your own hard work (or that of your parents) and spending it on whatever ideas—or candy—you may choose. In politics, good ideas attract money, just like sugary candy attracts the most kids.
Winning candidates and political parties draw attention from donors large and small. Of course, losing ones (i.e. Michael Bloomberg) can flood the political system with billions of dollars, but money is no guarantee of victory. Bloomberg knows that better than most, and plenty of candy ideas are just as flawed. But, some people liked Bloomberg, and the “top 10 worst candies ever” list is admittedly rife with my own childhood favorites!
So why shouldn’t we be free to choose, in any marketplace, what’s right for us?
No amount of money will get Americans to embrace ideas that aren’t actually popular, just like you can’t pay me enough to eat Hot Tamales for Halloween.
The amount of money in politics is a barometer of civic engagement writ large, and civic engagement is inherently beneficial to democracy. A democratic system can’t function with it. The more money spent, the more people are engaged and the more ideas compete to curry favor in the marketplace. Just like in the U.S. economy and on candy shelves, competition leads to greater consumer choice, and more personal freedom.
Leading up to Election Day, here’s a pro tip: Don’t listen to Democrats crying wolf about political spending. Keep dressing up as Spiderman, keep eating your Skittles, and keep contributing to American democracy.
Free speech and free association are every bit as sweet as candy corn.
Dan Backer is a veteran campaign counsel, having served more than 100 candidates and PACs, including two of the largest pro-Trump super PACs, and now Ready for Ron. He is of counsel at Chalmers & Adams LLC, a political law and litigation firm.