Steve Hilton is the CEO of Crowdpac, which is dedicated to making it “easier for citizens to learn about politicians, and to find and support political candidates that match their priorities and beliefs.” You can find him on Twitter here.
Right now, across America (well, the richest parts at least), the next President is being chosen. You thought it was all about 2016? The primaries? Iowa? New Hampshire? You left out the most important one.
What’s going on today is a delicate dance in which the men and women who might seek the highest office in 2016 are looking a little – how shall I put this – less elevated in early 2015. They’re engaging in that most quintessential of contemporary American political activities: seeing if they can raise enough cash to run. Look at the news of the last few weeks: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee: they’re all jumping into the primary that really counts: the Money Primary.
Before a single vote is cast or caucus attended, the presidential hopefuls need to show they are ‘viable’ by raising money first. The former RNC finance chair (who himself has now jumped ship to raise money for Christie) said recently that to have any chance of running for President, candidates need at least $US30-$US35 million in the bank by the end of this year.
What the Money Primary really means is this: a tiny, tiny number of rich people will choose who gets to be the most powerful man or woman on the planet. Not just big donors but also the ‘bundlers’: the well-connected fundraisers who host the dinners and cocktail parties that are so vital to political fundraising these days. If you want to become President of the United States, it doesn’t matter whether you can persuade 146 million registered voters whether you have the right qualities or the right vision: you just have to persuade Sheldon Adelson. He’s the Las Vegas gambling billionaire who, according to reports published before the holidays, is one of a small number of wealthy Republican donors working to achieve a “coronation” of either Bush, Christie or one of their rivals for the GOP Presidential nomination. Coronation? Wasn’t that the kind of thing America was founded to leave behind?
And before anyone on the left gets on their high horse of indignation, remember that this mire is non-partisan. Liberals like to berate the Koch Brothers and their ilk but do you imagine for one second that Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and any other putative Democratic nominees are not courting wealthy liberal donors behind closed doors in order to establish the viability of a run?
Apart from the affront to the values on which America was built, the Money Primary makes it all but impossible for a fresh face to emerge like Bill Clinton did prior to his victory in 1992. Today’s compressed Presidential primary/caucus schedule, and the geographically diverse slate of early states, makes substantial 2015 fundraising a necessity. The sort of slow run-up that allowed a little known Arkansas Governor to win the Democratic nomination is a thing of the distant past. Candidates no longer have time to win an ‘early state’ and use that momentum to raise funds for the next one.
It’s obvious we need to do something about all this. But what? Many good people are working on ideas to reform campaign finance rules. Good luck with that. Sincerely: good luck. It’s a noble cause. But the obstacles to reform are formidable. The establishment players want to protect the current system; they’re the ones who have all the influence as a result of it. And today, they control the levers of power.
But in the meantime, there are some practical things we can do, right now, to end the stranglehold of big money donors on our political system and give politics back to people.
Step one: we can democratize the ‘money primary.’ Why should such a small group of people decide who gets to run for President? Why can’t we all have a say? Up till now, there has been a practical problem. Candidates are not allowed to raise money for a Presidential campaign until they actually declare they’re running for President. It’s a Catch-22: they need money to run; but they can’t raise money till they actually are. Hence the secret, behind-closed doors Money Primary.
But now there’s something new we can try. Last August, the Federal Election Commission ruled in a 6-0 Advisory Opinion requested by my company, Crowdpac, that we could collect donations for undeclared Presidential candidates and transfer the money if and when the candidates announce their intention to run. So we’ve created a mechanism to do just that. Today, you can go to Crowdpac.com and donate to any of the politicians considering a White House bid. If you want Elizabeth Warren to run, you can vote with your dollars on Crowdpac. If you want to encourage Mike Huckabee to enter the race, support him with a donation. If they choose not to run, you get your money back. Think of it like a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
Right now, at weekend retreats, dinner in exclusive restaurants, and the best tickets to sports and cultural events, connections are being made and candidates sounded out. If the place where the Presidential nominees are chosen is not the ballot box but the ballet box; if the individuals doing the choosing are not ‘We The People’ but “Them The Donors’, we can state with clarity: America is not in any proper sense of the word a democracy, it’s a donocracy.
So let’s do something about it. Let’s take power back into our own hands. Let’s start by democratizing the Money Primary.
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