Big Money Gushes Into Presidential Politics as the Media Gushes Over Big Money

The man in this photograph would like to have you believe he's not affiliated with this organization.

The man in this photograph would like to have you believe he’s not affiliated with this organization.

Last night, Politico breathlessly reported that Marco Rubio is romancing Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson. It’s one of those stories whose very publication says more than the content of the piece itself: we’re at the stage in politics when wealthy donors are celebrities who are worthy of celebrity coverage.

Have you read the brilliant New York Times story about the 158 wealthy families that have financed nearly half of the 2016 presidential race so far? It’s really something, a data-rich dive into who’s spending money on what and why.

The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30, according to the most recent available Federal Election Commission filings and other data, while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election — the vast majority of it supporting Republicans.

The walls between donors and politicians are increasingly porous, if not downright flimsy. Sure, the contributions are supposed to end up with “Super PACs” that do not coordinate with campaigns, but that’s pretty much an open joke. Even Jeb Bush can’t seem to keep that distinction separate anymore: he just said in an interview with an Iowa public radio station that “We just started to advertise,” before stumbling and stopping and starting again: “actually, the Right to Rise PAC started to advertise, not our campaign.” If we know anything about the Bush family by now, it’s that their gaffes are often more telling than what they’re supposed to say, and this gaffe indicates that Bush doesn’t know where his campaign ends and his super PAC begins.

We’ve learned that there are limits to super PAC cash. For all his billions, Adelson couldn’t buy us a President Gingrich, after all. In 2012, super PACs basically ran out of television advertising space to buy, super-saturating the market. But at some point super PAC heads could figure out more effective uses of their money than just dumping some ads in front of passive viewers. And as the coordination between super PACs and campaigns continues to tighten, we could see some real damage being done to the democratic process.

Campaign finance reform is not a hopeless cause. Some very smart people have explained how we can staunch the flow of money into politics right now. But to do this, we have to stop just blithely accepting the fact that a handful of impossibly rich people can control the presidential election.

Paul Constant

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