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A Modest Refusal

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While campaigning for Democrats during the 2010 midterm elections, President Barack Obama often made use of an automobile allegory to convince voters why it was a bad idea to vote Republican.

To audiences at campaign stops across the country he more or less explained, “The other party spent a decade driving the economy into the ditch… now they want the keys back. They can’t have them back. They don’t know how to drive.”

Run with this automotive theme and ask yourself, what driver in his or her right mind would leave a car with the engine idling in the middle of the street and not expect someone else to drive off with it?

This captures how average voters in this country have abdicated their influence (if ever exerted) on government decision making — ranging from going to war to whether or not the  richest 2% of US citizens deserve an extended tax cut.

So, who has driven away with what we believed was a one-person-one-vote democracy?

Meet the bundlers. In the world of campaign finance, the high rollers aren’t those who merely pony up $5,000 per candidate, per election cycle. The bundlers are the people with deep pockets who can rope in friends and corporate colleagues with deep pockets — to- ante up for the candidate of choice. An April 15, 2007 New York Magazine feature of the Democratic Party’s field of presidential hopefuls, provides a telling profile of such middlemen.

Robert Wolf, Chairman of UBS Americas, became an Obama donor after his first choice, Virginia governor Mark Warner, decided not to run. Though he was courted by other candidates, Wolf wanted to fundraise for a “campaign where his presence would be ‘impactful,’ for a candidate who would take his calls, listen to his ideas. He wanted to feel the love. And while Wolf refuse[d] to speak ill of [Democratic competitor Hillary] Clinton, it’s clear he doubted that, no matter how much dough he raised, he’d never be feeling it from her.”

What writer John Heilemann illustrates so well is the generational divide among wealthy Democratic campaign donorsc — between the established guard who already had a place at the table with Clinton, and those lacking such access. Another young generation bundler who went on to support Obama put the choice more bluntly:

“If we lined up for Hillary, we wouldn’t have even gotten into the anteroom, let alone had seats at the table — there’s no more room. It would have been, ‘You have an idea? Send us an e-mail and we’ll have someone get back to you. Oh, and don’t forget to send those checks.’ But that’s not how it is with Barack. We’re already at the table.”

As of the printing of the New York Magazine piece, Wolf went on to bundle $500,000 for Barack Obama.

Among a number of fundraising records that Campaign Obama broke during the 2008 presidential election, perhaps one of the most significant was how much money small contributors — those giving under $1000 and those, $200 or less—had contributed of the $745 million collected;  57% and 33% respectively. Even though roughly 500 bundlers pitched in only $76.5 million of the total, they enjoy far greater access to the president at an average cost of $153,000 per donor.

Just last week President Obama came to Los Angeles to attend a number of fundraisers, one of which was held at a Brentwood restaurant. The price of admission? $38,500 per ticket, which included dinner and face time with the president.

The math does not lie when weighing which donor profile — small contributor or bundler — exerts greater influence.  The same goes for any Congressional or Senate race. The Washington, D.C. decision making process remains hermetically sealed  

Though the small contributor may have the votes to elect or defeat a candidate for public office, they won’t enjoy any advantage until they commit to a modest refusal: not to vote for any candidate who accepts more than $1,000 per donor (and no bundling either).

This refusal emphasizes what has been missing from American electoral politics — a consensus of engaged, responsive voters; an electorate reaching out to participate in the nomination process in an effort that renders multi-million dollar television and mass media expenditures as irrelevant.

Until voters awaken to this necessity, they will continue to endure the loss of a vehicle driven away right before their eyes every election year.

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About judefolly

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    One thing right and left and middle for that matter should agree on: get private wealth out of campaigns. How about a $1000 limit per cycle for everyone… full stop, period. The abuses of the system from the right were just as pervasive and just wait until 2012. The Citizens United ruling assures we will have rule by corporations and the oligarchy until ‘we the people’ put a stop to it.

  • Frank

    One of the benefits that government provides for the rich is the monopoly privilege. When a company no longer feels that it can compete or has gotten lazy they can go to government to pass a law to block competition. The consequences include economic decline due to politically motivated inefficiencies and waste of scarce capital. When this kind of thing becomes common you get a mob of lobbyists looking to make political deals rather than business deals.

  • http://rationalista.com Jerald Cumbus

    Call me cynical, but follow the money. Just see how many of our Congressmen and Senators are part of the Top 5% in-terms of wealth in this country. Then, draw a cognitive map with all of their connection to corporations big and small… Then, sit back and vomit.

    I indict both parties on this count.