21 October 2008

The American Bipolarchy Fundraising Machine

Read this submission from the New York Times and weep. Apparently all of Senator McCain's endeavors to reduce the influence of money in elections have failed, and he's benefiting. Senator Obama is benefiting, too, but McCain's hypocrisy is disgusting. He continues to denounce Obama for failing to live up to some vague promise to subsist on public financing, so one would think that McCain himself is laboring in virtuous poverty. Not so: he's raking in money from joint campaign committees, to which individuals can write checks that exceed the limit on contributions to individuals. Among those taking advantage of the rule are the banks and hedge funds and other heroes of the present crisis, who've been throwing money at both major candidates.

A New York Times analysis of donors who wrote checks of $25,000 or more to the candidates’ main joint fund-raising committees found, for example, the biggest portion of money for both candidates came from the securities and investments industry, including executives at various firms embroiled in the recent financial crisis like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG.

Obama is getting more money, but McCain is getting the biggest checks. The Democrat somehow has an upper limit of approximately $33,000 for contributors to joint-campaign funds, but McCain supporters have given their man as much as $70,000 at a time. While some industries or sectors give money indiscriminately -- they probably see it as charitable work -- "Compared with Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain drew a slightly larger percentage of his big-donor money from the financial industry, about a fifth of his total. ... With his emphasis on offshore drilling, Mr. McCain has also enjoyed heavy support from generous benefactors in the oil and gas industry, a group Mr. Obama drew relatively little from."

Some distinctions are predictable: "Mr. Obama also drew a significant amount from big givers in the entertainment industry, who contributed relatively little to Mr. McCain. In contrast, donations from the private equity and hedge fund industries accounted for a significantly greater amount of the giving from Mr. McCain’s largest donors, compared with Mr. Obama’s."

We now hear McCain's friends complaining that Obama is trying to buy the election with such vast sums as the $150 million he collected last month. This is a typical McCain tactic. When someone else does the same thing he's doing, there's an "appearance of corruption," -- especially when they're doing it better. But McCain's own integrity is never to be questioned. It's alright for him to do pretty much anything, for no better reason than that he's John McCain. Sometimes hypocrisy can be nothing more than the belief that you are the only ethical person on the planet.

But it can't be denied that Obama is driving up the price of elections. Once money was equated with political speech, elections turned into auctions. Votes themselves weren't up for sale, but the instrumentalities of elections, especially TV airtime, certainly were. Independents are priced out of the market, so that none of the candidates who opposed the Bailout, as far as I could tell, could get on national TV to tell voters about it. The fundraising advantages that the two main parties enjoy are as important to maintaining the Bipolarchy as the brand-name loyalty of most Americans. The only way to level the playing field is to eliminate money as a decisive force in politics by eliminating its necessity as much as possible. Until that happens, there won't be any real debates in this country, and American elections will continue to be Orwellian spectacles of permanent conflict as an instrument of permanent control.

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