Applying the Budget-Maximizing Model to Political Campaigns

Lately, I’ve been thinking of how the “budget-maximizing model” applies to the field of political consulting.

Unfamiliar with the model? Here’s a primer from Wikipedia:

According to the budget-maximizing model, rational bureaucrats will always and everywhere seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their own power, thereby contributing strongly to state growth and potentially reducing social efficiency.

It’s not hard to see this model at work in modern political campaigns. 

Each division of a campaign is fighting for ever-larger shares of the campaign’s budget, and indeed overall budgets continue growing to keep pace.

As Patrick Ruffini put it:

Whether grassroots donations or billionaire patrons fund them does not seem to matter: campaigns continue to get more expensive, with more extensive and better-paid full-time staff (and consultants).

Does this make for objectively better campaigns? I don’t believe so. Does it create better outcomes for voters? Again, I’d say the answer is “no.” 

We in the political consulting industry have created an ecosystem in which we justify our incomes, raise funds to pay for them, and overspend on our pet projects. And our increasing reliance on grassroots fundraising means we’re less accountable, not more accountable, to our donors for investing their money effectively.

The fact that campaign organizations often raise the most money when they are out of power (after they have failed electorally) speaks volumes about the lack of correlation between success and continued investment.

Over time, this budget-maximizing approach to campaigns will shift politics from a shared exercise in democracy to another predatory industry designed to separate people from their money with ever-increasing efficiency, further eroding confidence in our political system.

I wish I knew what to do about it, but I don’t. Ideas?