The presidential primaries have been a bad time for campaign finance reformers. Their basic claim is that money has a uniquely powerful and disproportionate influence in politics. But this campaign season shows that there are many other sources of influence—celebrity, academia, and the media—that can be even more potent.
The Republican party’s initial front runner, Jeb Bush, collected more money early on than other Republican. Allies also established a SuperPAC—Right to Rise—that had more money than any other associated with a competing candidate. Yet Bush exited without winning a single primary. And his candidacy also showed that money in his allied SuperPAC was no substitute for contributions directly to the candidate, as the Bush campaign had to cut back on operations after initial setbacks.
Trump, in contrast, spent little money and showed the power of celebrity, particularly in combination with media access. Studies have shown that he got more free media than any other candidate—$1.9 billion worth, by one estimate.