Party finance law reform - such as that currently proposed in New Zealand - is normally based upon the idea that the influence of money in politics can be used to 'buy elections'. But the fact is that there is very mixed evidence on the usefulness of money in elections. In this regard, the Economist has commented this week on the fact that the 2008 US presidential primary is shaping up to be easily the most expensive in history, by suggesting that how much money matters is not exactly clear:
Money is not a guarantee of success nor is lack of it a guarantee of failure. Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes have both proved that truckloads of money do not necessarily translate into political momentum. And Bill Clinton proved that you can win the presidency without being the big money candidate. Howard Dean has gone one better and proved both that you can succeed without money and fail with it. He came from nowhere to dominate the money primary in 2004. But his $40m treasure chest did not prevent him from imploding during the Iowa primaries.
And just in case you think this view is just the rantings of the rightwing Economist magazine, note the recent Guardian article entitled Money isn't everything by Ben Whitford, who argues that although the configurations of money in politics (and the US primaries in particular) can tell us a lot, ultimately 'there's more to the money primary than just the bottom line'. He says:
Money tells us a few specific things about candidates: how effective a political machine they can assemble, what kind of popular support they have, whether they're capable of mounting a serious campaign. But at the end of the day, despite the hype, elections come down to votes: it doesn't matter how rich a candidate is if they don't have the charisma and broad political appeal to back it up.