Some conservative pundits are a little over-eager to reinforce the racially tinged Republican narratives of election fraud. Take Lawrence Kudlow, host of a CNBC show and writer for National Review. In his column on Friday Kudlow asks, “With the unprecedented budget explosion of means-tested, welfare-related entitlements, does Team Obama think it can buy the election?… I wouldn’t put it past that cynical bunch.”
Kudlow then runs through the numbers showing that some anti-poverty programs have increased their expenditures since 2008. If that strikes you as unremarkable, it should. These programs are means-tested entitlements. The number of poor people increases, so too does the federal government’s expenditure. It happens automatically. And what happened back in 2008? Oh right, President George W. Bush’s catastrophic economic meltdown and ensuing recession. So yes, the number of Medicaid and food stamp beneficiaries has increased, and consequently so has the government’s expenditure on those programs. Kudlow’s complaint is reminiscent of Newt Gingrich’s misleading and racially coded derogation of Obama as the “food stamp” president.
Surprisingly, Kudlow is intelligent and honest enough to anticipate this counterpoint. And so he writes:
By the way, it’s not just the deep recession and weak recovery that’s driving up these programs. It’s a substantial eligibility [emphasis in original] expansion, which started under George W. Bush, but has gone much further under President Obama…. It is [emphasis in original] redistribution, but it could be vote-buying, too.
Kudlow offers no breakdown of how much of the increase can be explained by eligibility expansion and how much by the recession.
But the bigger problem by far is that Kudlow is alleging unethical or illegal behavior on the president’s part where none exists. To “buy the election” is to cheat and thereby subvert the democratic process. Kudlow throws out this very serious charge with no evidence, or even intellectually honest analysis, with which to support it.
There are two main ways that election-buying occurs: rich people or monied interests determine the results through using their buying power, or parties or campaigns bribe voters. The former is legal and the latter illegal. Hence the common observation that a worse scandal than law-breaking in politics is what is actually allowed.
The first type of election buying is the kind of which Kudlow and other conservatives approve. It is being currently conducted on behalf of Mitt Romney by Sheldon Adelson and other billionaires. Some are motivated mainly by ideology. For many, it is a business investment: elect Mitt Romney by spending enough of your fortune that ads on his behalf will outnumber those for Obama, and he will save you far more with tax cuts or favorable regulatory decisions.
The paradigmatic vote-buyer is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who outspent his most recent opponent by more than 10 to 1. He is now taking that show on the road, dumping millions of his dollars into congressional races to support “moderate” candidates in both parties.