New Orleans Politics is drowning in money or, more accurately, money is drowning politics. Estimates for the campaign for President now run in the billions. There is every indication that future campaigns will be even more expensive.
In the Democratic primary we have just witnessed two billionaire candidates offer themselves, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. Reportedly, Steyer spent at least $200 million, and Bloomberg spent $600 million. In both cases, we are talking about them writing personal checks. Their dollars moved the needle for them and muscled other candidates around with fewer resources, even though their efforts were fruitless.
What can we learn from all of this? Money certainly matters. Candidates rose and fell based on their ability to raise the big bucks.
Buttigieg proved himself viable in the early stages based on his fundraising ability, and after Iowa and New Hampshire when it shrank in South Carolina, he was tapped out. Same for Klobuchar, Booker, Harris, and a number of others who rose and fell over time. Warren eschewed PACs and big donors for much of her campaign helping prove that a viable effort was possible, but even at the end she had to acknowledge and accept independent expenditures on her behalf as it became impossible for her to compete effectively on Super Tuesday.
Sanders and Biden provided different lessons about money.
Sanders has established indelibly over two campaigns that a loyal base of donors, often very small, can drive a campaign all the way from start to finish. In some ways, Trump has also been part of that proof of concept. His money got him in the race in 2016, but smaller donors have become a huge part of his money machine over the last four years and intensified his base.
Biden seemed to do poorly raising money, and this has often been his weakness in his two previous campaigns. Only after he won South Carolina, coalesced his support within the moderate wing of the party and then won ten states on Super Tuesday, has his cup runeth over.
Certainly, billionaires have won electoral office. Bloomberg was a three-time mayor of New York City. Berlusconi won a number of elections in Italy. Trump may have been a billionaire when he won in 2016. In each case they were able to do so in a certain window of time by doing the work and building a base, rather than just cashing checks.
In the Democratic primaries at least where inequity and the gaps between rich and poor seem stark and widening, Democratic voters seem to be saying that America is no country for billionaire office holders. Maybe this is a lesson that Trump has taught everyone. The old saw that someone is so rich that they are incorruptible, seems to have been proven wrong by Trump and his family at every turn.
Democratic voters seem to be saying, stay in the back room and away from the ticket itself. Sure, money still matters. Millionaires, billionaires, and corporations can still buy votes and politicians by the gross, just not for themselves. It’s a fine line, but at least voters are drawing some lines.