Following the Money As It Is Spent

The January-February issue of the Monthly included a fine book review by the veteran political reporter Walter Shapiro that discussed what he called the “Campaign-Industrial Complex,” and argued that campaign finance reformers need to pay as much attention to the spending side of campaigns as the much-scrutinized contributions side.

Walter returns to this theme in a piece at the Columbia Journalism Review site, this time approaching it from the optic of news coverage of campaign financing. One problem he notes is the limited information on the beneficiaries of big-time campaign spending in official documents like FEC reports. Another involves the reluctance of political reporters to probe the financial interests of the highly-paid consultants they rely on as sources for “insider” information on campaigns.

But because the people who plan, design and place political ads are the ones largely driving the cost of campaigns, campaign finance reporting that ignores them is ignoring at least half the story, notes Shapiro:

As admirable as all the efforts by the political press corps and foundation-backed groups to chart the sources of campaign donations may be, that is only half of the double-entry bookkeeping side of the ledger. What is missing is an equal curiosity about where campaign funds are going and who is profiting from all the spending. The fall presidential election campaigns will be a $2 billion business—and that alone should invite some long overdue press scrutiny of the inner workings of Politics Inc.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.