The Oprah Argument

This one's a bit of a head-scratcher. The Los Angeles Times compares Norman Hsu to Oprah Winfrey to illustrate the point that not all campaign bundlers are crooks. And while I grant them that premise I don't buy that just because some bundlers are good people, bundling is a good thing.

What bundling does is, in essence, grant a greater amount of prominence and influence in a campaign to particular individuals based on their wealth and/or number of wealthy friends and associates. A robust presidential public financing program won't get rid of bundling, as the editorial rightly notes, but it will give candidates the option of running a viable, credible campaign regardless of how wealthy their particular group of supporters is.

The problem here is that the editorial conflates bundling with general support:


If Winfrey's fans take her advice on what book to read, why shouldn't they be able to heed her appeal to back Obama? Raising funds for the candidate of your choice isn't always or even usually a corrupt or self-serving act; it can be an exercise in citizenship.

First off, I doubt Oprah, with a daily television show, a magazine, and more U.S. press exposure than most countries is at a loss for platforms to broadcast her support for a candidate. However, bundling contributions for candidates in largely an act undertaken by and among a small and wealthy sliver of the population. Given the outsized importance of fundraising in campaigns today, it grants these people an outsized degree of influence over which candidates rise to the top and which never have a chance.

A public financing program in the Clean Elections model would allow voters of all income levels to exercise their citizenship with a small-dollar contribution to the candidate of their choice that allows them to mount a competitive campaign using public funds. Then, just as Oprah's fortunes rise and fall with her popularity among the general public, a candidate's success would come from his or her appeal to everyday American voters.