There’s a funny silence where the complaints about ‘money in politics’ used to be.
The latest numbers on amounts spent on TV ads have billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer at $153.1 million and $116.5 million, respectively. Yet no viral pieces have been written, no passionate speeches given about their corrupting influence.
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have given lip service to them, sure, but it’s been very muted. Warren told Rachel Maddow that Bloomberg is ‘skipping the democracy part of this’ because his lack of fundraising means he can’t participate in the debates. Of course, anyone who tells you they believe Warren actually would want Bloomberg in the debates is lying to you.
Bloomberg has made it known that he will continue to pay his staff, and offer them to the eventual nominee if by some chance it isn’t him, through November. It used to be that a billionaire openly giving a giant contribution of this kind would raise some ire. But the ire seems to be in quite limited supply these days since both billionaires have made their main mission to oppose Donald Trump.
Progressives can pretend to be outraged about fundraisers in wine caves but they’ll take the maxed-out donations from Hollywood or Silicon Valley or, yes, Wall Street, any day. 2020 is shaping up to be the election where everyone drops the pretense that this isn’t done. Bernie has barely mentioned his $27 campaign donation average. He knows in order to win that will have to go up. Way up.
In November a staffer on Tom Steyer’s campaign was found to have tried to bribe local politicians in Iowa, offering them money in exchange for endorsements. The news didn’t even make a ripple. The best part is that Steyer is running on, wait for it, getting money out of politics. It’s reported with nary a hint of irony such as when, in an August story, the New York Times called him ‘an unlikely populist’ and followed up with ‘but he is spending his fortune to try and get money out of politics’.
For all the concerns about rich people buying elections, Bloomberg and Steyer remain near the bottom of the polls. And, lest we forget, in 2016 the rich man was outspent by the slightly less rich woman by nearly 2-1.
But what about the special interests and the lobbyists? The dirty secret is that money can only influence so much. How much money would National Right to Life have to give Bernie Sanders to move him one iota on abortion? What kind of lobbying would the NRA have to do to get Elizabeth Warren to soften on guns? Special interest groups and their lobbyists target people who already mostly agree with them. Money is peripheral. Keep voting our way and we’ll keep supporting you. Nobody is hoping to change any minds.
Getting the money out of politics was never a worthwhile nor realistic goal anyway and, with a field of mostly millionaires and billionaires, it would be a great time for Democrats to admit it.