Washington Watch: The money chase

"Billionaires are buying up candidates of every flavor."

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) holds up his son Anthony as he stands with family members, including his wife Jeanette (R), after he announced his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during a speech at Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) holds up his son Anthony as he stands with family members, including his wife Jeanette (R), after he announced his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during a speech at Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The first votes in the 2016 presidential election are three months away in Iowa and the general election is still a full year off, yet tens of millions of dollars have already been spent by presidential hopefuls, has-beens and never-was’es. And that’s just the beginning of what will certainly be the most expensive election in American history, possibly topping $10 billion.
Billionaires are buying up candidates of every flavor. The most popular investment among Jewish mega-donors is Marco Rubio, for now. Hedge fund manager Paul Singer just made a huge down payment on the young Florida senator.
Singer, who the Center for Responsive Politics called “one of the GOP’s most prolific fundraisers and donors,” also wrote to dozens in his network of wealthy donors urging them to back Rubio as the best chance to “defeat” Hillary Clinton.
He joins billionaire Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, who has backed Rubio since his earliest days in politics, even helping in his personal finances and giving the senator’s wife, Jeanette, a job.
Both Singer and Braman are fervently pro-Israel, as is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is expected to invest big in Rubio soon. In the 2012 presidential cycle Adelson and his wife Miriam chipped in an estimated $150 million. Adelson has been auditioning Republican presidential candidates for months and is reportedly ready to go with Rubio, while his wife is said to favor Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Using the royal “we,” Rubio said, “When people donate to us, they buy into our agenda,” but politics isn’t philanthropy, especially when tossing around more than most people earn in a lifetime. Only the terminally naïve believe those huge campaign contributions don’t come with strings. Or chains.
Take the case of Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who has been indicted on federal corruption charges relating to doing favors for a major campaign contributor, a doctor in trouble with Medicare.
What does Adelson expect? He invested $15m. in Newt Gingrich’s hapless 2012 presidential bid, no doubt delighted by the former speaker’s bashing of Palestinians as an “invented people” with no right to a state of their own and accusing Barack Obama of “favoring the terrorists.”
Rubio, in a similar chord, is charging the Obama administration with “falsely blaming” Israel for Palestinian terrorist attacks and denouncing Clinton for not uttering the words “Palestinian terrorism.”
Israel is not Adelson’s only issue. He has also said he is willing to spend “whatever it takes” to enact a ban on Internet gambling. Rubio, after hesitation last year, is now a sponsor of legislation to do just that.
Republican candidates are competing in their Zionist zeal. It has little to do with Jewish voters and much to do with the big money from the likes of Singer, Adelson, Braman and other deep pockets who make pro-Israel enthusiasm – and generally, support for the Israeli Right – a threshold for their support.
The only Jew in the presidential race in either party may be the only candidate not courting Jewish billionaires. Condemning billionaires’ influence has been a major theme of Bernie Sanders’ campaign as he boasts that he has raised $40m. from over a million small contributors. He is also the only candidate who won’t accept money from the Super PACs and their related non-profit groups that can raise unlimited funds, much of it from anonymous donors, and not have to reveal it.
The Democrat-Socialist senator from Vermont has made a centerpiece of his campaign a constitutional amendment to override the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the floodgates to unrestricted money. He is the only candidate advocating public financing of elections, the most effective and cheapest way to stop the pernicious influence of big money.
It won’t happen, of course, because those who’d have to vote on it are the ones most beholden and addicted to the big money. The last thing they want to see is a level playing field.
Hillary Clinton, who said the system has been “hijacked by billionaires and special interests,” has at least one Jewish billionaire benefactor, George Soros. In a major speech on campaign finance reform, she said she wants to “fix our dysfunctional political system” and eliminate “unaccountable money.”
She may rail that “hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or ... truckers” but she still takes their money and looks to them to raise more.
Her talk of reform will help her with some on the Left who feel she is not progressive enough and too beholden to big donors and Wall Street types that have paid her upwards of $200,000 per speech.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who’s been having considerable trouble raising money and poll numbers, has decried the “dark money” in politics and suggested he would support a constitutional amendment – like Sanders and Clinton – to negate Citizens United, but when the measure came before the Senate last year he and every other Republican voted against it.
Congressional Republicans have consistently blocked disclosure and reform legislation, with the backing of business groups.
President Obama has been a forceful critic of the Citizens United decision and has spoken often of the need for reform, but he has done little to bring about needed change. He could have issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose political contributions – as Clinton is promising – but he hasn’t.
A CBS/New York Times poll showed strong bipartisan support by voters for restricting the influence of the mega-donors, and rejection of the idea that political money is a First Amendment protected right of free speech.
Money has too much influence on politicians and public policy, respondents said.
Yet most expressed pessimism that anything could be done about it. There may be a lot of talk about the need to repair the system, but not enough pressure to make a difference.
Virtually no respondent to the survey called it a determinative issue on how they’ll vote.
The obscene money chase will continue, and if you think $10b. is too much to spend on an election – and it is, way too much – you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.