Of late, Arlen Specter has been engaged in something of a crass-off against, well, himself. His argument for switching parties was that he'd lose the Republican primary. His argument for consistency was that he would still oppose the interests of the very voters he was now courting. But www.SpecterfortheCure.com is something of a new low. The site promotes "a bold new initiative to reform our government's medical research efforts, cut red tape and unstrangle the hope for accelerated cures." That "bold new initiative?" Arlen Specter's reelection campaign.
"Senator Arlen Specter," we're told, "intends to build a bridge over the valley of death," which sort of implies that if he loses the Democratic primary, he might decide he's "simply not going to subject my 29-year record in the United States Senate to a primary electorate of living humans," and return with a mighty zombie horde who will look more favorably on his candidacy (Arlen Specter, D-Hades). But later on, the web site gives a sounder explanation: Specter has a bill to increase the funding for the National Institute of Health. Re-elect Specter and the bill stands a better chance.
And Specter, to be honest, isn't wrong about that. The idiosyncratic workings of the United States Senate mean that one Senator who is both a cancer survivor and a swing vote could single-handedly appropriate tens of billions for cancer research. If your top priority is accelerating medical research, then backing Specter's efforts is probably the most cost-effective investment you can make. Specter is essentially promising a federal match to cancer donations that route through his campaign. And if he's successful, the match could be millions of federal dollars for every one you give him.
But that's an increasingly big "if." The money raised will, as Brian Beutler says, support not only Specter's efforts on medical research, but also his "various other, eclectic legislative priorities." And if Specter -- who is currently pissing off every member of the Democratic caucus after having totally infuriated his Republican colleagues -- can't pass this project, then the money donated to this site won't have made a damn bit of difference to the medical research community.
That said, I can't quite get mad at Specter. He's just democratizing the transactional campaigning that is usually only offered to special interests. Politicians frequently go before specialized audiences and promise them support on a particular bill in return for a large donation. The interests then assess the politician's chances of 1) winning and 2) passing the bill, and then decide whether to fund him. If they do fund him, it's understood that the politician will work hard to pass this achievable priority. No reason that single issue voters shouldn't be offered the same deal.