The Great Debate

Like it or not, the single best barometer of a candidate’s politics is money

By Dave Skinner

Wow! 24 million people tuned in to the great debate on Fox! On cable! How could that be? Republicans, especially “electables,” are boring and plastic – kind of like NASCAR. Sure, fans say they tune in for the driving, but flaming wrecks and smoking wreckage get ratings. I think most people who watched the debate hoped for a smoking pileup.

And, just like NASCAR, politics is all about the money. Money for campaigns, for polls, for ad buys, for pork projects to favored constituents, tax carve-outs – money, money, money.

Like it or not, the single best barometer of a candidate’s politics is money – who gives and most importantly, why. But unless donors are famous, like Hollywood stars or big business tycoons, detecting the true politics of both donors and recipients is a pain in the keister.

No sane (and busy) American voter has the time or desire to wade through reams of financial reports or voting records. Most of us settle for picking one or two personally important issues as a litmus test. The trouble far too often is, voters fall into picking a candidate who is “good” on one issue, but terrible on all the rest. Gosh, I hated it when I did that.

Now, my job is partly to wallow in slimy tides of toxic political money so I can write about what floats to the top. But I’ve been hoping for one-stop shopping where someone else can credibly do the digging, the analysis, the cross-referencing grunt work needed to answer the question: “Is candidate X a neo-Fascist, a crypto-Commie, or somewhere in between?”

Wouldn’t you just love a straight answer?

Well, in the last year or two, there has been an increasing number of news articles about an organization which, according none other than the New York Times, “takes federal and state campaign finance data — who donates money to whom — and uses that and other details to calculate a political position along a spectrum for candidates. Not only are donations to candidates included, but contributions between candidates and other organizations are also listed.” Who dat?

Crowdpac, which calls itself “independent, non-partisan and for-profit,” hopes to make money from users seeking to support candidates that are good ideological matches for the donor. The donor gives through Crowdpac and/or “partner” Democracy Engine PAC, which then charges a commission of “about five percent,” according to reporter Amy Schatz of re/code. Voters might be satisfied to give 95 percent to a well-matched candidate – especially those who previously have wasted 100 percent on a bum.

Will the concept work? Perhaps, but right now, Crowdpac has a website up and running. It’s worth a look. Even if you can’t bring yourself to blow good money on politics, you can use Crowdpac to avoid blowing your vote.

The Crowdpac methodology combines statements, votes, and contributions to create a scale that runs from 10L (liberal) to 10C (conservative). Average Democrats score 5.8L and average Republicans 6.0C.

So far, Crowdpac rates Socialist-cum-Democrat presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders at 8.7L. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton is rated 6.5L, just a hair more liberal than President Obama (6.4L). For comparison, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren scores 7.9L.

What about participants in the Great Debate? Let’s begin with attention-getter Donald Trump: He rates a 1.5C, right next to former New York governor George Pataki (0.9C) – in short, Trump is the second-least conservative Republican candidate.

The most conservative? Rand Paul at 10C, which might explain Paul’s cranky exchanges not only with Trump but New Jersey governor Chris Christie (2.6C).

As I’m writing, the top five pollers besides Trump include Jeb Bush (scored 4.9C by Crowdpac); Scott Walker (7.9C); Ben Carson (8.5C); Ted Cruz (9.6C); and Marco Rubio (5.7C). One backbencher who might bear watching is Carly Fiorina (6.0C).

Closer to home, here’s how Montana’s Congresscritters rank: Sen. Jon Tester gets 5.4L; Sen. Steve Daines gets 6.2C, Rep. Ryan Zinke, a 6.4C.

Do these scores, on the candidates you’ve seen, fit well enough with your own impressions? If so, perhaps this Crowdpac bunch is worth your attention. They certainly have mine.