Joe, I agree that David Brooks wrote a thought-provoking column which forces us to step back and challenge our assumptions. I’d add another small critique to your list : Brooks argues that advertising from independent groups gets lost in the crush of ads by the candidates and parties themselves. But my sense is that the outside groups on the whole tend to traffic overwhelmingly in negative attack ads, while the candidates and parties produce quite a lot of gauzy positive “bio” spots. Update: Greg Sargent notes that a healthy proportion of this year’s third-party ads have beeen debunked as misleading or false. Again, that’s hardly uncommon for candidates and party committees, but I wonder if it might be more common for less-accountable outside groups.
But the more significant critique comes from Glenn Greenwald, who notes that Brooks strangely, and substantially, lowballed the amount some of those independent GOP groups are spending by many tens of millions of dollars. (He may also have used an apples-to-oranges comparison when demonstrating that outside money is a small fraction of overall political spending.) Nor did Brooks even mention Haley Barbour‘s Republican Governors’ Association, likely to wind up spending abut $90 million this cycle just on governors’ races. That’s got to make a difference.
One thing we should be thankful for, however, and which people rarely discuss these days: elected officials aren’t personally hitting up donors for huge cash donations anymore. The 2002 McCain-Feingold reform bill banned those “soft money” transactions, in which a senator or even the President of the United States might personally solicit a six- or even seven-million dollar donation from a megadonor for the national party. Predictions at the time that the soft money ban would simply lead to a rise in independent political groups have clearly been borne out. But at least we’ve removed the groveling by elected officials–and subsequent sense of direct indebtedness–from the equation.