October 18, 2015

Big Money in Little Politics

veritable pastiche photo
Think of the last holiday party, class reunion (or even a family reunion), or offsite (business meeting) you attended. Think about the hotel conference rooms or banquet rooms you've been in, and try to picture what a room full of 150 or so people looks like.

Now that you've got that picture in mind, picture this: according to a story in the New York Times a week or so ago, 158 families, along with their companies, have donated over $176 million dollars  -  just through the end of June  -  to presidential candidates.

That's an awful lot of money, for what's really a small pool of beneficiaries - the two dozen or so folks who are running for president.

One hundred fifty eight families. One hundred seventy six million dollars.

Almost half of all of the money contributed to the candidates through June 30th came from just a few more people than attended the average wedding last year. Eight families from the same elite Houston neighborhood donated $7,780,000.  I wonder whether the ones that only coughed up $250,000 feel overshadowed by their neighbors, three of whom have already given $2M each?

One fracking-rich family in Texas ($15M) and a NYC family, hedge-fund rich ($11M), gave $26M in support of  Ted Cruz, currently in fifth place. Another family gave $5M to Scott Walker, who is now on the sidelines. And yet, they're hugely successful in business - heck, they've probably already made enough to cover these bets.

Does this much money, this early, from so few, bother you?  Is this what you consider a 'representative democracy' or is this something else entirely? Is this 'freedom of speech' or is it trying to buy an election? How can any candidate pretend that there is not something in it for these huge donors?

I'm sure the folks who want to be president are all like New York's Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo, who sleeps well at night knowing that he's pure of thought and deed and can't be bought. But, as I noted back in 2014, this kind of money buys something, or else it wouldn't be donated.

The little people -- me and everyone I know, for example --  cannot compete with the likes of a Russian-born billionaire who became an American citizen two years after I got out of high school with close to $2M to burn trying to influence the presidential election, or a Hollywood studio magnate or a Northern California tech mogul, or sports team owners (including the Walker supporters mentioned above), whether their money is going to Republicans (138 of the families) or Democrats (the remaining 20).

We can't compete with these folks, and we shouldn't have to. Rather than pricing you and me out of the market, however, we should have priced them out of the market.

A listing of the families, and their contributions, is here