When elections cost $4 billion only people who have $4 billion can afford them.
The last election?
The New Yorker had a cartoon that got right to the point. Two little kids, probably 5 years old, were walking somewhere. One said, “This will be the most important election of my life.” How many times have we said that? Nixon, Reagan, Bush and now Obama. And we would add, “Keep in mind that the Supreme Court majority hangs in the balance!”
I must ask you: Is this indeed the most important presidential race in our lifetime?
I might even ask: Is this the last presidential race in our lifetime?
Have we watched democracy slip from our grasp? When the headlines shout that the presidential race in 2012 is going to cost $2 billion, is the idea of citizen participation wishful thinking?
Those who are comforted that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will spend as much or more than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan miss the lesson of Citizens United. Obama, the Democrat, is looking for money everywhere. In fact, he will get money from most of the funders who support Romney. We somehow feel comforted to know that the GOP cannot buy the election — at least not this one — because his fundraisers and allies will go to Wall Street, the pharmaceuticals, and insurance companies and warn them that if they sit out this election, there will be payback when Obama wins.
My favorite story is Jon Corzine, who used more than $100 million of his own money so he could call himself “incumbent” — first as a U.S. senator and then as governor of New Jersey. Whoa, Nelly! But then he ran for re-election as governor and he lost. Subsequently he went back to Wall Street and somehow “lost” more than a billion dollars.
Meanwhile, candidates for Senate must raise $10 million, $20 million or more to have a chance to win; candidates for the House must spend a million or two depending on the district. What is the result of all this money? We get someone like Senator Ron Johnson, who is not ready for a seat in the state Legislature let alone the U.S. Senate.
Democrats might win the presidency this year and might win Wisconsin’s Senate seat, but then what? What happens next year, next election, next recall? The answer is that we will get the candidates we deserve.
Would you like to try out my theory? Start looking for a highly qualified person to run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. To get someone good, fair and objective is almost impossible. The first person you ask to run looks at you like that puppy in the pet shop window. “Are you kidding? That will cost six or seven million dollars.” (Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has bought two seats, so it is a sure thing that they will jump in with both feet to maintain the majority.) A few potential candidates respond that if we raise say $6 million and have a first-rate campaign staff up and running they might consider it. But first we need some polling data!
Is this democracy? I don’t think so. It is plutocracy at best.
As for the presidency, the race in 2016 will likely cost $4 billion. Can any Democrat raise half of that? Hell no. So let’s face it. If we do not recapture our elections, we are no longer relevant. Period!
Russ Feingold did just about everything right in the Senate. He lost and he did not run in 2012. My guess is that he will never run again. Why? He would face a candidate with $15 million to $20 million! Those 5-year-olds in the cartoon were right!
(A version of this article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Capital Times.)
October 30, 2012
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Ed Garvey is editor and publisher of FightingBob.com.