Don’t blame Michele Bachmann.
The 2011 Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll winner played the system precisely as it was designed by Iowa Republicans. The Minnesota congresswoman invested in the Straw Poll to ignite her campaign, busing in supporters, feeding them and purchasing one of the best spots on the portion of the Iowa State University campus leased for the event.
Bachmann sunk her campaign nest egg and more into the Straw Poll. Her 2011 midyear campaign reports show she spent $6.1 million in July, August and September of 2011. That’s $2 million more than she raised at the time.
Her leveraged straw poll buyout paid off big time with a victory that catapulted her — briefly — to the top of the GOP slate.
That’s what Iowa Republicans had in mind when they created the Straw Poll: A fun, festive and phony way of measuring candidate support early in the caucus campaigns. The Straw Poll is first and foremost a lucrative fundraiser for the Iowa Republican party, which charged $30 per vote and much more for campaign space.
According to New York Times reports, Bachmann purchased 6,000 voting tickets for the event, then won with just over 4,000 votes. That led satirist Stephen Colbert to quip Bachmann prevailed by winning most of the votes she paid for.
Still, a majority of Iowa’s Republican Central Committee members told the Des Moines Register they’d like to stick with the faux fundraiser.
That’s why we commend Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s condemnation of the straw poll this week. The governor diplomatically, but effectively, exposed the sham:
“I think a lot of people have had some real questions about the way that the straw poll thing has evolved. ... I’m trying to look to the future to say let’s come up with a better system that welcomes all the candidates, that gives people from all parts of the state a chance to participate, and the most important thing is to protect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses and make sure all of the candidates feel welcome to participate in that process.”
He’s proposed a series of regional candidate forums that would still serve as a state party fundraiser, elevating substantive discussions and downplaying the blatant cash grab. Branstad understands that Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status gets threatened when candidates and voters accurately perceive how easy it is to game the system.
Iowa Republicans — and Democrats, for that matter — are free to fundraise any legal way they choose. But keep the fundraising away from any form of polling or voting. As long as the party charges for straw poll voting, candidates like Bachmann will arrive early and invest heavily.
The purchase price for Straw Poll votes comes at the expense of Iowa caucus credibility.