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The problems with self-financed candidates

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This election cycle, both Montanans and the nation may be asked to vote for billionaires potentially able to fund their own campaigns without outside help. Both Donald Trump and Greg Gianforte, like Mark O’Keefe before them, have the cash to make substantial contributions to their own campaigns. There is a certain (perhaps uniquely Anglophonic) attraction to the idea of the independently wealthy hero: a sort of Batman/Scarlet Pimpernel character whose immense wealth lets them make an end run around the limitations that constrain (and corrupt) mere mortals. The idea that such individuals can ‘speak their minds’ or ‘owe no one’ is an appealing one, but such candidates are at least as troubling as traditional ones, funded from outside.

For one thing, even if self-funding grants candidates a certain degree of latitude, that freedom is only as good as the people wielding it. It makes little difference who candidates do or don’t answer to if their personal opinions are abhorrent, as Trump and Gianforte’s surely are.

There’s also the matter of honesty – self-funded candidates are able to create the impression that they are more honest than other candidates, because they don’t have to speak out of both sides of their mouths (one to donors, another to voters). But there’s really no reason to believe that this means the line fed to voters is any more honest – indeed, it just means the candidate can focus all of their lies on the voters, and not worry about any embarrassing 47% moments when addressing donors.

And what might such candidates believe? Well, we know that there’s a huge difference between people at Trump/Gianforte levels of wealth and the rest of Americans on important issues like protecting Social Security or funding public schools. Regardless of their carefully crafted populist images, such candidates are likely to associate with social circles far removed from the majority of Americans in both their real interests and personal opinions. Moreover, the salary of a president or governor pales in comparison to what these candidates already have, and are guaranteed to have when they leave office – meaning that for a very wealthy candidate to pursue the sorts of policies we need to restore the American middle class and provide a safety net for the working class, he or she must actively sabotage his or her own future wealth-creating potential.

This is not to say there haven’t been great candidates who have come from wealthy, ‘one-percenter’ backgrounds – icons like Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. But the idea that a self-funded independently wealthy politician is the antidote to money in politics, the key to ‘Make America Great’ (or whatever nonsense slogan Gianforte is about to unveil) is merely a romantic fantasy.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we\'d certainly appreciate it.

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The Polish Wolf

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    • I don’t think Kerry every tried to pull of the ‘straight-talking, answer to no one, man of the people’ schtick like Trump is doing. Any attempt at it would have been laughable!

      • What the larger of the two “schticks” PW? Having a successful outsider in an election cycle offer what seems to be a reversal in the R/D establishment policies which is promise everything and deliver nothing.

      • Kerry’s speech at D convention 2012.

        “But I say to you: This is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief. Our opponents like to talk about “American exceptionalism,” but all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things. We break out of the Great Depression, win two world wars, save lives fighting AIDS, pull people out of poverty, defend freedom, go to the moon—and produce exceptional people who even give their lives for civil rights and human rights.”

        We’re currently headed into another great depression, we’re losing regional wars, 94 million people (record) out of the workforce, freedom (NSA) sucks, and civil unrest. But hey, Kerry’s rich.

        • We’re not losing any wars vital to our security, and we’re losing a lot fewer lives in wars that aren’t. Our economic productivity is overall better than any comprable economy. I notice you don’t mention the unemployment rate: maybe for the best. But you can’t ignore that 7 million more people have jobs now than had when Obama took office (the US population has grown by 14 million in that time) – for contrast, while Bush was president the population grew by 20 millions but added only 6 million jobs.

          • wow, you continue to say amazingly ignorant things. we aren’t losing any wars vital to our security? first, I think that’s crap, but let’s say you’re right. why the hell would we be fighting wars that aren’t vital to our security? and please don’t say humanitarian reasons.

            and then you bring up the unemployment rate. what a joke. you do realize the unemployment numbers are total shit, right? not counting under-employed and people who have given up looking for work is why the unemployment numbers are total shit.

          • Context, lizard, context. Did you read Swede’s post, wherein he calims Obama is losing wars? The point is, Obama’s ‘failure’ to ‘win’ Syria has nothing to do with our national security, which I think you’d agree with me on, so lambasting him for a ‘weak’ foreign policy is foolish. And then I DON’T bring up the employment rate, because Swede didn’t (for the best), precisely because it has those problems. The damage from 2007, in fact has not repaired. However, my point was that Obama has created more jobs than Bush ever did, despite also decreasing the deficit and raising taxes on the rich – an idictment of the ‘job killing’ theory progressive taxation. Basically, there’s nothing in my comment that you fundamentally disagree with, you just hate the idea that Obama could be better than Bush, because that would indicate there’s a different between them.

  • This has been a topic that I’ve been meaning to post on a while now. Another difference about self-funding candidates in Montana is our particularly low contribution limits (some of the lowest in the country). Last year, each person could only give $650 to a candidate for governor (or $1,300 if you gave in both the primary and general elections). In order to raise the $1 or $2 million that you need to win for Governor, that means you have to get thousands of small donations and lots of grassroots support. If someone has given a candidate money, it’s a fair bet that they’ll vote and tell their neighbors.

    The process of getting donations in Montana requires that a candidate builds some level of grassroots support, and a stronger campaign. Self-financing candidates don’t need to go through that process, and often don’t do as well. The statistics back this up: reports that I helped write at FollowTheMoney showed that from 2000 to 2009, only 11 percent of self-funding candidates won, and in 2010, 8 of 10 self-funding gubernatorial candidates lost.

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