Ruth Marcus suggests that this is an unintended consequence of good government reform -- specifically, Arizona's passage of public financing for state legislative elections in the late 1990s. A student of mine recently did a study of this system, finding that Republicans are consistently less likely than Democrats to accept public funding, either because of personal ideological objections or because Republican primary votes might find it inauthentically conservative. However, Marcus suggests that public financing may be helping Tea Party types. Basically, the parties have become skilled at channelling private donations to preferred candidates. Once candidates can fund their own campaign through public money, the party loses its vetting power:
And, as it turned out, a law pushed by “good government” types, primarily Democrats, ended up benefiting conservative Republicans who quickly figured out that the Clean Elections money could be used to take on Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans.
“Clean Elections allowed individuals ... not to have to compete financially since they didn’t have to build constituencies,” Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, said in an interview.
J.D. Hayworth, the conservative former congressman who is challenging Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary here, told me that “for those of us who derided it as nanny state government, and properly so,” the “unintended consequence is that it has empowered conservatives.”The idea that the Tea Party is rising to power with the help of public money is very interesting, and, of course, deliciously ironic.