Bernie Sanders himself, and Bernie Sanders’ fans get very worked up about the amount of money in politics. As a result, his campaign is focused on big-money-related issues: overturning Citizens United, limiting the power of Wall St/big banks, universal healthcare (to eliminate profits from insurers/pharma companies), and millionaires and billionaires in general. What follows as the biggest liberal criticism about Hillary is that her well-funded campaign has received contributions from some of these entities (big banks) that Bernie rails against. She has even received hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal speaking fees from some of these companies. Bernie fans are appalled about that money, and then are appalled at the fact that I and other liberals are not similarly appalled. I know many of my FB friends are very passionate about Bernie (you know who you are), and I don’t mean to pick a fight. I would just like to explain why I am NOT appalled that Hillary Clinton gets so much cheddar and why the charts and infographs about how much money she gets are not persuasive to me (or to many other Hillary supporters).
Look, I agree that the amount of money spent in politics for campaigns to get elected, and for lobbying once politicians are elected is excessive, a waste, and a big problem, but I do not think it is the biggest or most consequential problem in politics. I also do not think money in politics is the single root of all the problems in our democracy. I don’t tend to believe that any one factor is a single root of problems in a complex system. Money and power are often quite intertwined, and it is unlikely that money will ever be completely extricated from political power or democracy. And though money itself is powerful, but it is not supremely powerful. It has its limits, just like other forms of power.
As an example of the limits of the power of money, in 2012, the Koch brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect far-right politicians in races across the country. Though they had some success, they certainly weren’t able to buy the election across the board. They failed so hard at taking down their biggest target, Barack Obama. All the money of these right-wing Super PACs funded by Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelstein, the RNC, and other favorite bogeymen of Democratic fundraisers couldn’t buy the election. As another example, Jeb Bush was by far the best-funded Republican primary candidate this year, and has spent over $100 million on ads to win the primary. He has been drowned out by at least four other candidates with less political spending money because they have some kind of appeal to Republican voters that he does not.
Money in politics does cause problems, but those problems can be overcome by other factors, such as grassroots activism, media coverage, a large volunteer force, a well-organized campaign that appeals to individual voters, and the spread of information on the internet and from person to person. The best example of that phenomenon—of other power factors overcoming money—is Bernie Sanders’ campaign itself. Look at all the people moved by his ideas and the grassroots spread of that information. As much as money has increased as a source of political power, so has social media technology and the internet in general. A very similar example is Donald Trump’s campaign. Though he is individually very rich, his actual campaign spending is minimal in comparison to Jeb Bush’s.
I think that for people who regularly deal in plenty of power and/or money, there is a limit to how much large campaign contributions can influence them. That is, I don’t think they are “bribed” or “owned” or “bought” in proportion to how many dollars they receive. For us ordinary citizens, if Goldman Sachs paid us $600,000 out of the blue for speaking to them, we might feel quite obligated to do whatever they wanted at any time, especially if we lived paycheck to paycheck prior to that fortuitous event. However, someone like Hillary, or Obama, hasn’t had to worry about money in a while, and actually will never have to in the future. Further, $600,000, in comparison to the $1 Billion in total contributions modern presidential campaigns raise and spend, isn’t enough for a company or industry to buy whatever influence they want on a single candidate. Many organizations with competing interests donate to the same candidates; just as insurance companies and banks donate money to Hillary, Obama, and every other candidate, so too do teachers unions, factory worker unions, and environmental groups. If an oil company contributes $1M and an environmental group contributes $200,000 to the same candidate, does that candidate ensure that the oil company receives five times more favor when that candidate is in power? I submit that it is impossible for a single politician in any position to quantify and then dole out favors in proportion to all the hundreds or thousands of interest groups that he or she has received money from. When you have hundreds of slightly varying interests competing for your attention as a politician, I think you have to weigh things other than money—such as the overall impact of a given policy on all your various constituents–and make judgments as best you can.
A common complaint of Bernie’s camp is that “BIG” money interests spend tons of money on lobbying and therefore control our political process. These days, it’s “Big Pharma,” “Big Health Insurance,” “Big Banks,” and “Big Oil.” (In the old days, it used to be “Big Steel,” and “Big Rail.” Money only keeps you in power so long).I wholeheartedly agree that big companies in these industries do many shitty things that affect society and individuals badly. When those companies do things that hurt us, they should be reined in and heavily regulated. Like when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry drive up healthcare costs, something like the Affordable Care Act should cap their excesses. When the banking industry causes harm to individual families and our economic system, something like the Dodd-Frank act should move in to protect consumers. When the fossil fuel industry causes harm to the environment such that our whole planet is in jeopardy, they should be left on the sidelines to fade away as governments promote cleaner energy industries.
And speaking as a liberal, I still can’t say “I agree with everything Bernie say, but…” because I don’t agree with the drastic nature of changes he wants to implement. For example, I don’t think we should try to shift the country to single-payer health insurance in one fell swoop, eliminating the private insurance system and the entire healthcare industry setup all at once. I prefer changes to be targeted, precise, and incremental, Obamacare-style, not “throw away the whole thing and start over” revolution-style, because revolution-style changes tend to bring about unwanted side effects and casualties.
Obama implemented lots of meaningful change through his style of governing. As much money as these “Big” companies spent on lobbying congress and donating to Obama’s campaign, other concerns—the concerns of the people– drove Obama and Congress to implement new regulations in their industries. These Obama policies supremely pissed off pharma, health insurers, banks, and oil companies. These are policies that Hillary supports and wants to continue to improve.
So I don’t buy the line that Hillary is a “corporate puppet” or whatever. That’s too simplistic of a way to consider how presidents make decisions. Hillary has been one of the most powerful women in the country for a couple of decades now. She should be getting paid for speaking like the baller she is. She’s also the most qualified person to run for president ever, which is what you gotta do when you’re a lady trying to get a job only men have ever held (see, e.g., female NFL referees, coaches; all CEO positions ever). For this reason, it is not surprising that all major newspapers, members of Congress, and many highly effective liberal organizations (Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign) have all endorsed Hillary. It’s not because they are all similarly “paid” or “bought” by big bad corporations. I was not paid by any corporations to write this in support of Hillary. We’ve considered things other than money, as Hillary does.