Gingrich: We can't let Karl Rove and a bunch of billionaires handpick GOP candidates for Senate

Go figure that a guy whose candidacy was steamrolled by Romney’s Super PAC in Florida isn’t keen on the idea of Super PAC proliferation. But pay attention to what he says in the clip about campaign finance reform. If Rove’s new group does manage to torpedo one or two promising tea-party candidates in Senate primaries, you might see a sea change in grassroots opinion about the Citizens United decision and CFR generally. Says Newt:

I am unalterably opposed to a bunch of billionaires financing a boss to pick candidates in 50 states. This is the opposite of the Republican tradition of freedom and grassroots small town conservatism…

That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.

There is a second practical thing wrong with Rove’s proposal…

Republicans lost winnable senate races in Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida. So in seven of the nine losing races, the Rove model has no candidate-based explanation for failure. Our problems are deeper and more complex than candidates.

Handing millions to Washington based consultants to destroy the candidates they dislike and nominate the candidates they do like is an invitation to cronyism, favoritism and corruption.

The question: Would a ban on outside money do more to help or hurt conservative candidates? If you shut down Rove, you also shut down the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity (which might be looking to assert itself in primaries), Jim DeMint’s PAC, and other tea-flavored groups that can provide “seed money” for a promising grassroots insurgent who’s struggling to match the ad expenditures and name recognition of an establishment rival. Conservative media can and does help with that, but political media of any sort has trouble reaching low-information voters by definition. If you kill off the Super PACs, you’d better be prepared to donate early and often to the next Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz to help get their campaigns off the ground before it’s too late. Besides, as Nate Silver recently noted, the establishment’s money advantage in GOP primaries hasn’t translated into a lopsided winning record. On the contrary, if you’re banking on grassroots donations to propel a tea-party challenger to competitiveness, it might actually help to have Rove’s group out there stirring things up:

My analysis of fund-raising data, in this context and others, has found that it is generally the proportion or ratio of funds raised by each candidate that has the most power to predict races, rather than the absolute amounts. This is a consequence of the diminishing returns of campaign spending: the first $100,000 of spending goes a lot further in establishing a candidate’s viability than the marginal $100,000 after she has already spent $5 million.

Suppose, for example, that the establishment candidate has raised $3 million and the insurgent candidate $500,000, a six-to-one advantage for the establishment candidate. Mr. Rove’s group intervenes and contributes $1 million to the establishment candidate, bringing him to $4 million total. In response, the insurgent candidate raises $500,000 through grass roots groups, bringing her to $1 million total. Despite the absolute difference between the candidates’ fund-raising totals having increased, the ratio has declined to a four-to-one advantage for the establishment candidate from six-to-one previously, arguably leaving the insurgent candidate in better shape than before the fund-raising salvos.

The intuition is simply that it may be dangerous to raise the profile of an insurgent candidate for whom a little extra money and exposure could go a long way.

Could be that, in the Internet age, as information about promising candidates becomes easier to access and donating becomes as simple as texting, the value of Super PACs will diminish and insurgent candidates will be able to compete entirely through their own direct fundraising. Seems risky to me to think we’re already there, though.