The myth of billionaires 'buying' elections

Democrats have been whining about big money controlling politics and elections for years.  Billionaires on both sides support candidates and issues with billions in funds.

But there is a growing consensus among political professionals that just because a billionaire is in your corner, there is no guarantee that you will get the election outcome you seek. 

On the surface, this is a no-brainer.  There are many instances in each election cycle where the better-funded candidate lost out to someone who raised a fraction of the big spender.  But the myth has taken hold among the public – thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign by Democrats to delegitimize Republican candidates accepting money from rich donors – that the super-rich are trying to "buy" elections and that they are generally successsful.

Reuters:

"There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrell West, the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust," and the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Potential big donors dispute the notion they are trying to buy elections and say they are simply using their positions to try to influence the future of the country in a positive way.

"I do believe – and I’ve told my kids this - that I can do more for them by giving money to the right presidential candidate in 2016 than by leaving them double that amount in my will," said David Walsh, a retired investor living in Jackson, Wyoming, who would not disclose his net worth but has given several multi-million dollar gifts to charitable causes and said he planned to donate heavily to candidates in 2016.

Miami car dealership mogul Norman Braman has been outspoken about backing his longtime protege Rubio; financial investor Foster Friess was in the audience cheering Santorum on when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago; and Bob Mercer, the founder of a New York hedge fund, has been identified as supporting Cruz. The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have publicly vowed to spend nearly $900 million influencing races in 2016.

Amid the populist outcry against CEO pay and income inequality there may be some risks in candidates being so publicly linked to the extremely rich.

In Philadelphia, Anthony Hardy Williams was considered the favorite for the city's next mayor. He won support from three billionaires, Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik, founders of the Susquehanna International Group, a global financial firm headquartered in a Philadelphia suburb. The three backed Williams, encouraging voters to support his views on a hot-button education policy issue.

They spent nearly $7 million on television ads promoting Williams. In response, unions and other community groups, who opposed Williams's education platform, coalesced around another candidate, Jim Kenney. One of the groups, Action United, organized a march in front of SIG's offices with placards that said, "Stop billionaires from buying our next mayor!"

With very few exceptions, the super-rich are political ignoramuses – novices with no clue how an election is fought and won.  This has led to some spectacular inefficiencies in the rich spending money on candidates and causes that don't have a chance of winning:

"When you have political amateurs or novices with a strong issue or ideological position in which they have intense belief and are willing to put their money behind it, the money itself is no guarantee of victory," said Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan who studies the influence of money on political races.

Studies of the 2012 and 2014 elections by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit that tracks political spending, show most groups backed by billionaires had less success swaying election outcomes than groups controlled by trade organizations or professional political strategists. The Sunlight study does not offer any explanation for this difference.

Democrats are hypocrites when it comes to decrying big money in politics.  They demonize the Koch brothers but remain silent when it comes to the massive spending by labor unions.  And the biggest hypocrite of them all is President Obama, who railed against the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision while raising a billion dollars for his re-election in 2012.  The majority of that money came from Democratic whales who apparently didn't hear the president when he was lecturing America about the evil influence of billionaires on politics.

The key to all of this is simple transparency.  Take away all the limits on giving to candidates, and make it law that every single donor has to be listed on a website along with the amount given.  The public can then decide for themselves whether to vote for a candidate who appears beholden to great wealth.

Democrats have been whining about big money controlling politics and elections for years.  Billionaires on both sides support candidates and issues with billions in funds.

But there is a growing consensus among political professionals that just because a billionaire is in your corner, there is no guarantee that you will get the election outcome you seek. 

On the surface, this is a no-brainer.  There are many instances in each election cycle where the better-funded candidate lost out to someone who raised a fraction of the big spender.  But the myth has taken hold among the public – thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign by Democrats to delegitimize Republican candidates accepting money from rich donors – that the super-rich are trying to "buy" elections and that they are generally successsful.

Reuters:

"There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrell West, the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust," and the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Potential big donors dispute the notion they are trying to buy elections and say they are simply using their positions to try to influence the future of the country in a positive way.

"I do believe – and I’ve told my kids this - that I can do more for them by giving money to the right presidential candidate in 2016 than by leaving them double that amount in my will," said David Walsh, a retired investor living in Jackson, Wyoming, who would not disclose his net worth but has given several multi-million dollar gifts to charitable causes and said he planned to donate heavily to candidates in 2016.

Miami car dealership mogul Norman Braman has been outspoken about backing his longtime protege Rubio; financial investor Foster Friess was in the audience cheering Santorum on when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago; and Bob Mercer, the founder of a New York hedge fund, has been identified as supporting Cruz. The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have publicly vowed to spend nearly $900 million influencing races in 2016.

Amid the populist outcry against CEO pay and income inequality there may be some risks in candidates being so publicly linked to the extremely rich.

In Philadelphia, Anthony Hardy Williams was considered the favorite for the city's next mayor. He won support from three billionaires, Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik, founders of the Susquehanna International Group, a global financial firm headquartered in a Philadelphia suburb. The three backed Williams, encouraging voters to support his views on a hot-button education policy issue.

They spent nearly $7 million on television ads promoting Williams. In response, unions and other community groups, who opposed Williams's education platform, coalesced around another candidate, Jim Kenney. One of the groups, Action United, organized a march in front of SIG's offices with placards that said, "Stop billionaires from buying our next mayor!"

With very few exceptions, the super-rich are political ignoramuses – novices with no clue how an election is fought and won.  This has led to some spectacular inefficiencies in the rich spending money on candidates and causes that don't have a chance of winning:

"When you have political amateurs or novices with a strong issue or ideological position in which they have intense belief and are willing to put their money behind it, the money itself is no guarantee of victory," said Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan who studies the influence of money on political races.

Studies of the 2012 and 2014 elections by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit that tracks political spending, show most groups backed by billionaires had less success swaying election outcomes than groups controlled by trade organizations or professional political strategists. The Sunlight study does not offer any explanation for this difference.

Democrats are hypocrites when it comes to decrying big money in politics.  They demonize the Koch brothers but remain silent when it comes to the massive spending by labor unions.  And the biggest hypocrite of them all is President Obama, who railed against the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision while raising a billion dollars for his re-election in 2012.  The majority of that money came from Democratic whales who apparently didn't hear the president when he was lecturing America about the evil influence of billionaires on politics.

The key to all of this is simple transparency.  Take away all the limits on giving to candidates, and make it law that every single donor has to be listed on a website along with the amount given.  The public can then decide for themselves whether to vote for a candidate who appears beholden to great wealth.