Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Is Barack Obama Corrupt?

It may seem like a provocative question, but as Robin Hanson points out, the conclusion that he is corrupt follows from some widely held beliefs about the role of money in politics:

What motivates campaign donations? Discussions of campaign finance reform are dominated by a private interest theory, that donations are in trade for favors. Here donations in support of interests besides yours are bad news; they says the candidate has implicitly promised to help those interests at your expense.

The main alternative is a public interest theory, which says we donate to signal private info about candidate quality. Under this theory people who get private info suggesting a candidate would be good at promoting the general public interest donate money to signal confidence.

Hanson then proceeds to note the large amount of contributions that Obama has received. And while some of these contributions have been from small donors (or from people who don’t exist), the bulk of it has come from traditional, large money donors:

The Democratic Party created a separate committee to capture millions of additional dollars from individuals who had already given Obama the most the law allows and who had also anted up $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee. … The Committee … has become a vehicle for ultra-rich Democratic donors to distinguish themselves from the 3.1 million others who have put $600 million behind Obama’s presidential candidacy. … Only a quarter of [this] has come from donors who made contributions of $200 or less. … That is actually slightly less, as a percentage, than President Bush raised in small donations during his 2004 race.

Those who subscribe to the private interest theory of contributions, therefore, are committed to the view that Senator Obama is corrupt, and indeed is particularly corrupt, given just how much money he has been able to generate. Personally, I’m inclined to reject the private interest theory. People donate money to candidates for all sorts of reasons (some self-interested, some public minded), and the evidence suggests that it’s a candidate’s positions that determine his contributions, rather than contributions determining his positions.

I will concede, though, that Senator Obama may not be a particularly good example of this point, at least from my perspective. He did, after all, try to give a million dollar earmark to the hospital where his wife works after they had mysteriously raised her salary almost $200,000 a year, and he does not seem to have been at all uncomfortable as part of Chicago’s political machine. His fans may consider the good Senator above reproach, but from my perspective he is at best no better when it comes to such things than any other politician.


October 29, 2008 - Posted by | Election

1 Comment »

  1. This is so typical of the small, mean politics of years past.

    Comment by fus01 | October 29, 2008 | Reply

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