2 billion dollars, the estimated cost of this year’s presidential election, is big money, but it is not huge money. Two billion is one-tenth of NASA’s annual budget, one-twentieth of the Harvard endowment, one-thirtieth of the personal wealth of Warren Buffett. Buffett is number two on the 2015 Forbes list of 106 Americans who hold personal fortunes of $5 billion or more, the Club of 106. These billionaires are rich enough to pay for the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and still have $3 billion left over.A lot of the money in Club 106 is family money. The Club includes two Kochs, four Waltons, three Marses, two Newhouses, and three Ziffs.
Donald Trump was also born into big money. With a supposed net worth of $4.5 billion, he is brushing up against the velvet rope outside of Club 106. The Clintons, both born to families with ordinary incomes, are now worth around $110 million, which puts them way off from Club 106 and pretty far from you and me as well. In the political off-season the Clintons have borrowed private jets from friends and relied on book advances and speaking fees to maintain two residences, to summer in East Hampton, and reportedly to help their daughter and son-in-law purchase a $10 million Manhattan apartment. The Obamas will soon be devising their own approach to making their way in a billionaire’s world with a mere $20 million.At least four of the members of Club 106 (Buffett, the Kochs, Bloomberg) have openly voiced their thoughts on who should be president. Five members (Soros, Simons, Cohen, Ellison, Bloomberg) are among the top 25 donors to the outside groups that have poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign. Seven members (Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page, Brin, Murdoch, the Newhouses, Bloomberg) own large media and internet companies — Amazon, the Washington Post, Facebook, Google, Fox News, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast, Bloomberg — with the power to shape public opinion. (By way of disclosure, an eighth member, Pierre Omidyar, founded The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media.)For the Club of 106, elections are a game they can easily afford to play. One vehicle of choice is the Super PAC. In the 2012 election cycle, the top 100 Super PAC donors accounted for 3.7 percent of the donor population but gave 80 percent percent of the money, a structure that roughly mirrors the makeup of U.S. society as a whole, where one percent of the population holds half of the total wealth. The ratio will likely tilt even further toward the Club of 106 during the 2016 cycle, thanks to two recent court decisions — McCutcheon and Citizens United — that loosened limits on individual donors and opened the door for Super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.Trump, borrowing from the rhetoric of Clinton’s former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, likes to say that the electoral system is “rigged” by big money, and that he, a billionaire, is the only candidate wealthy enough to transcend it. “I’m self-funding,” he said at one point, which isn’t exactly true. “No one owns me.”It is easy to lose this Trump brag among his many other provocative statements. Trump has, for example, called climate change “bullshit” and “a hoax invented by the Chinese.” He has described his anti-ISIS strategy as “knock the hell out of the oil,” although, as he told the editorial board of the Washington Post, “I would rather not do it with our troops.”Here is Trump in a primary debate, explaining the basics of campaign finance:When they [politicians]call, I give. … When I need something, two years later, three years later, I call them. And they are there for me. That’s a broken system. … With Hillary Clinton, I said ‘be at my wedding’ and she came to my wedding. Do you know why? She had no choice. Because I gave.Here is Trump anointing himself the lion of campaign finance reform at the Republican convention in Cleveland:Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place. … She is their puppet, and they pull the strings … my message is that things have to change.Trump is laying it on thick, but he is essentially right: The system is rigged. The Democrats are corrupt. So are the Republicans. Jane Mayer’s exposé of the Koch Brothers, Dark Money, describes exactly how pools of private money shape policy on the Republican side. A New Republic story on the fundraising prowess of Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice presidential pick, shows how deep donor influence runs in the Democratic Party’s current leadership. Judging by their track records and public statements, neither Clinton nor Trump is up to the task of breaking the hold of money over U.S. politics, which means that anyone looking to make a White House run in 2020 or 2024 had better make nice with the Club of 106.
source:EIN news desk