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Shields, Brooks on Campaign Spending Debate

November 2, 2010 at 5:35 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And again to Mark Shields and David Brooks. First, Mark, I want to return to the discussion for a moment that — the discussion that Judy ran with Leslie Sanchez and Karen Finney, where they talked about the outside money in this campaign. I know the two of you disagree on this.

You still believe this is a bad thing for this election, right?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a terrible thing for the election, Jim.

I mean, for 103 years, since the passing of the Tillman Act in 1907, there’s been a public policy, which is you don’t — you keep corporate money out of campaigns. I mean that has been — that’s what the Roberts court and Alito and Scalia and the others opened up this year.

We now see outside groups, according to, the group that David relies on as well, have spent $300 million, these outside groups have spent, which is more than outside groups have spent in the 10 midterm elections since 1990 combined. I mean, that’s how much.

I mean, and we talked about — Leslie Sanchez mentioned the outside, the Service Employees Union. Service Employees Union has spent $15.7 million. You know, that’s a lot of money. But Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie’s Crossroads, as of Monday, their independent group has spent $38.5 million.

And, so, I mean, it’s just — it’s a lot of money. It’s anonymous. It’s unaccountable. It’s untransparent in so many instances. And it comes with a cost. Make no mistake about it. People are doing this like they’re given to the symphony or the orphanage or the little league.

JIM LEHRER: Now, your problem has always been not a — you don’t have the problem that Mark has with this, but you have had problems because it’s anonymous, right?


JIM LEHRER: Or do you still feel that way?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, a couple things. First, it’s bad for government. There’s no question about that. It corrupts Washington. It corrupts what issues get raised, what issues don’t get raised. There’s no question about that. The way — where I would draw a distinction is, does it affect the campaigns?

JIM LEHRER: The outcome of this election.

DAVID BROOKS: And I want transparency.


DAVID BROOKS: Whether it affects the campaigns. First of all, let’s — if you throw in the outside money and the party money and the candidate money, Democrats are still spending significantly more. I just read that in my own newspaper, which is the bible. So…

JIM LEHRER: If you add it all up.

DAVID BROOKS: If you add it all up…

JIM LEHRER: If you add it all up.

DAVID BROOKS: … Democrats spend — still spending more. But I just don’t think it makes that huge a difference, because there’s so much money on both sides just getting thrown. I would say the one effect it does have is that incumbents used to have a gigantic advantage. And that advantage has been erased. So to some degree it’s helped the out party. And I suspect it will help the out party in race after race after race.

JIM LEHRER: And you think, in this particular case, that outside money has helped unseat some incumbents? We’re about to see for sure, but…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it’s leveled the playing field a little. Now, as I say, there have been costs — there will be costs about government and lack of transparency. But I do think, if you take the incredible advantages that incumbents generally have, some of them have been mitigated.

MARK SHIELDS: You can’t say is your principal source, your reliable source, and then, “Oh, say my newspaper said.” It’s $1.64 billion, according to today, has been raised and spent by the Republicans, $1.59 billion by the Democrats. That’s a lot of money. We’re looking at the most expensive race in history.

Jim, it comes down to what isn’t raised as an issue. If you just get the word that one candidate, one candidate who is favored — and they have targeted several Democrats tonight — if one of them is beaten by a group that is against any insurance coverage, or against bank investigations, the person then who raises that issue, who wants those hearings has to know, in his heart or her heart, that they’re coming after him next time.

And I think that’s the message that is sent by this kind of money. I mean, we’re talking about, as soon as anybody gets reelected tonight, the first thing they are going to have to do is talk to their fund-raiser and say, what do we do? We have got to raise twice as much next time as we raised this time.

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, I say the Democrats spent more. Mark’s numbers show essentially even, $1.64 billion to $1.59 billion.

OK. Let’s say it’s even. I just think you’re sitting out there in a campaign. You’re watching all the ads that are getting through. You’re talking babies, about cutting off Medicare. I saw an ad against Sharron Angle. There are going to be old people dying in the streets, sex addicts running through the neighborhoods.

You’re turning it all off. I just don’t think the ads are that effective when you’re getting your — when you have seen your 8,000th ad. And the idea you’re going to be able to trace one ad to an election victory, I think that almost never happens.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think the outside money — and we have to go here in a moment — but the outside money has contributed to the tone of the campaign, to the — quote — “nastiness” that is in a lot of these ads?

MARK SHIELDS: On both sides, they have been overwhelmingly negative, the outside — there’s no accountability, Jim.

In other words, it isn’t my saying, I’m attacking Jim Lehrer. He double-parks. He doesn’t return library books. And I’m Mark Shields, and I paid for this.

This is some bogus group with a euphemistic name attached to it. And they can say, David Brooks is a known public — you know, whatever he is.

JIM LEHRER: It’s OK. We got it.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s true.

JIM LEHRER: We get the point.

MARK SHIELDS: Thespian. Thespian.


DAVID BROOKS: The only thing I would say, I intuitively agree with that. It has got to have a corrosive effect. But I saw a study recently…

JIM LEHRER: In the dialogue, right.

DAVID BROOKS: But I saw a study recently where they measured public cynicism in districts with a ton of outside negative ads and without negative ads, and there was no difference. People were equally cynical.

So, there’s a complicated relationship between what’s on TV and what people think. So, there’s a lot of cynicism out there. But, intuitively, it feels like it must have an effect.

MARK SHIELDS: You can’t believe that more — we need more corporate money in politics.

DAVID BROOKS: No, I never — I don’t think I said that. I don’t think I said that.


MARK SHIELDS: That’s what the system — that’s what, this year, we have seen. And, Jim, it is going to be exponential next time.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s where we are right now. Thank you both. Talk to you later.