“Why Big-Money Donors Can’t Reel In GOP Rebels”

This WSJ piece has a lot of good detail elaborating on a point I make in my recent NYT essay, which is the way small-dollar donations have enabled the rise of free-agent politicians. This also highlights concerns I’ve raised before about whether small-donor matching programs would further fuel extremism. From the WSJ:

Big Republican donors haven’t been much help in pushing California Rep. Kevin McCarthy over the finish line in his bid to become speaker of the House of Representatives.

The reason: His dissenters don’t need them.

About half the Republicans opposing Mr. McCarthy’s bid for House speaker fund their campaigns through small, online contributions instead of counting on major donors and corporate political-action committees, a Wall Street Journal review of Federal Election Commission reports found.

Those streams of $5 and $10 donations can turn into a flood when a lawmaker stakes out a contrarian position and stokes political drama.

“Many of the holdouts do not rely on major donors, PACs and the traditional offerings that a political party can provide,” said Ken Spain, a corporate adviser in Washington and former communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “There’s a perverse incentive for members to elevate their personal brand at the expense of the governing majority.”…

A candidate’s ability to raise huge amounts of money from email, text and social-media appeals has eroded the power of the political parties, business and lobby groups, and donors who dole out campaign contributions, Mr. Spain and other political strategists said. That means there is no natural base of influencers to push small-donor-dependent politicians by threatening to withhold election financing.

In fact, high-profile political moments and divisive, contrarian sound bites provide the richest environment for online fundraising, the past few election cycles have shown….

What the dissenters have in common more than anything else is a strong reliance on small donors.

“It’s these very antics that let these obstructionists raise all the money online, creating a very destructive cycle,” said Brendan Buck, a top aide to the previous two GOP speakers of the House and now a partner at a Washington communications firm.

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