by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The emergence of the Internet has created a legitimate alternative, which Sanders is making the most of. Rather than a politics financed by special interests, Sanders is drawing funds from an army of local activists, whose commitment to the cause induces them to chip in $20 here or $40 there. Taken individually, the activists cannot compete with lobbyists from the telecommunications or health-care industries, but their numbers are so vast that, in sum, they can propel Sanders into the front of the money race.
Call me a contrarian, but I have my doubts about this mode of financing, too. Again, stipulating that donors have access or influence that average voters do not possess, is it really better for activists to be the main source of finance? Corporate lobbyists are going to invest in politics for their stockholders’ interests, but activists have a wide array of ideological views that are often out of step with the rest of society. The Sanders voters in particular are far to the left of the average American — and probably the average Democrat, too.
We complain so much about political polarization these days, and I think with good reason. But to what extent does the polarization in the last generation lead back to this revolution in campaign finance? Are grassroots extremists pulling candidates to the ideological fringes by increments of $20 apiece? It’s very possible.