It’s August, so we get lots of silly season stories. My favorite this week? The decision by a bunch of CEOs and other corporate types to boycott campaign donations until the president and Congress agree to a Grand Bargain on the budget.
As Steve Benen writes, this is a massively counterproductive decision if taken at face value. The boycotters, led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, claim that they want “a bipartisan, balanced long-term debt deal that addresses both entitlements and revenues.” Benen is right: there’s one party that supports that sort of thing, and one that doesn’t; it makes no sense to react to that situation by declaring that both sides are at fault.
More likely, however, the real appeal of this is that it’s an excuse for some rich folks who feel put-upon by politicians to keep their money in their pockets – and feel good about it. While there’s a good deal of ambiguity, most political science research on campaign contributions indicates that (contrary to public opinion) people don’t actually get very much for their contributions. Quid pro quos are apparently unusual, especially when it comes to big, highly visible policy. Indeed, some experts believe that in many cases the roles are reversed: safe incumbent Members of Congress are able to basically extort money out of interest groups by threatening to cut off access if they don’t pay up. Moreover, there’s probably, at least in some circles, social pressure to contribute. It’s likely in my view that the best way to think of this is as an attempt by the donors to turn the tables.
Benen is correct, however: if what they want to do is to affect public policy, the best way to do that is to identify the party that comes closest to supporting their goals, and support that party and its candidates. That’s going to yield plenty of frustration, of course, because in a Madisonian system winning an election doesn’t automatically translate into controlling policy. But frustration or no, it works a lot better than temper tantrums.