One of the main points cited by Ron Paul's libertarian defenders is his fundraising prowess. And it is indeed true that Paul has succeeded in raising far more money than most political observers would have expected. As of October 29, the Paul campaign had raised some 8.3 million dollars, and no doubt it has taken in more since then. However, now that it's clear that his candidacy is both a flop politically and likely to damage the image of libertarianism, this fundraising success turns out to be a double-edged sword. The millions of dollars spent on Paul's candidacy could surely have instead been spent in other ways that do far more to promote libertarian causes. The same goes for the time and effort invested in Paul's campaign by libertarian political activists. To take just two of many examples, imagine what all that money could have accomplished had it been given to the Institute for Justice or to the Milton Friedman Foundation.
To be sure, not all of the money Paul raised was contributed by libertarians. Some no doubt came from the sorts of people who agree more with the antiwar, right-wing populist, nativist, or conspiracy-mongering aspects of his message. But to the extent that many libertarians did contribute time and money to Paul, they would have served their cause better by investing those resources elsewhere.
UPDATE: Paul's campaign claims that it raised almost $20 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 (the figure cited in the original post only covers the period up until October 29). If the claim is accurate, it further reinforces my point by making the opportunity costs of Paul's candidacy even higher than I thought.
UPDATE #2: Instapundit, and some commenters question whether the money given to Ron Paul really would have gone to other libertarian causes had he not run for president. Maybe, Instapundit suggests, it would have gone to "beer and skittles" instead. Perhaps so. But to the extent that some of that $20 million came from committed libertarian activists, it is not implausible to suggest that it might have gone to other libertarian causes instead. In addition, my main point is that libertarian donors should invest their funds in projects with better returns for libertarians than Paul's presidential bid - whether or not those donors are actually inclined to do so. Finally, even more spending on "beer and skittles" might have been better for libertarianism than the damaging debacle that Paul's campaign is rapidly becoming.
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