Money talked in GOP rout

Kentuckians partaking of post-election spin and punditry have feasted on all kinds of theories about last week's dismal turnout and why a conservative state gave Republicans such a thumping.

Left in no dispute, though, is the sine qua non, the essential feature, of modern elections: The candidate with the most money wins.

That was true of the campaigns for the five statewide offices with one exception. Republican KC Crosbie raised and spent more money than the Democratic incumbent and came very close to upsetting Treasurer Todd Hollenbach, despite his dual advantages of incumbency and a name well known because of his father's political career.

The one Republican winner, Agriculture Commissioner-elect James Comer, outspent his hapless opponent, in part on TV messages informing the electorate of his opponent's haplessness.

The millions of dollars that poured in from conservative groups to help Republican Rand Paul win last year's U.S. Senate race didn't show up to help Republicans in state races. That's not surprising. A governor or attorney general of Kentucky can't do anywhere near as much as a U.S. senator for the deep-pocketed interest groups that helped Paul.

And, just as you'd expect, the interests who want something from state government gave generously to a popular incumbent governor.

Republican gubernatorial challenger David Williams alluded to that when he said if he had a do-over he would raise $10 million like Beshear — "$850,000 from state employees and the rest of it from people who do business with the state."

This statement is ironic coming from Williams, because, as president of the Republican Senate, he was key in killing public financing of the governor's race.

Public financing was enacted at the same time as gubernatorial succession to even the playing field and reduce the influence and corrupting effect of special-interest money.

Republicans didn't put up a serious candidate the first time they had a chance to run against a Democratic governor in 1999. Then they argued that the campaign spending limits that went with public financing made it impossible to raise and spend enough money to compete with an incumbent.

Republicans called public financing "welfare for politicians." But in the first publicly-financed race in 1995, Democrat Paul Patton and Republican Larry Forgy worked like draft horses, debating dozens of times for audiences across the state. In constrast, Williams barely ever saw Beshear.

The 1995 election attracted almost a million voters, or 43 percent of the electorate, compared with 29 percent or almost 840,000 who voted last week.

Public financing of elections may now be a moot point, as decisions by the Federal Election Commission and Supreme Court have unleashed a tide of "independent" money that pays for attack ads and robo-calls. Spending by outside groups and corporations now is as influential as what candidates raise and spend, if not more so.

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are making themselves heard. But you still better raise money to have the final say.