13 June 2012
Gingrich resents wealth -- or does he?
One reason why Americans often look to billionaires for political salvation, from Ross Perot to Michael Bloomberg, is the assumption that their ability to fund their own campaigns would leave them unbeholden to campaign donors. While the billionaire will still need to make promises to citizens to get their votes, he should not have to make promises to wealthy people or corporations to get their donations. Look at it from another perspective, however, -- from the vantage of the billionaire's rival, or even from the vantage of Newt Gingrich during his race against Mitt Romney. From Gingrich's perspective, as he explained to Al Sharpton yesterday -- and how did I miss that momentous meeting of minds? -- the ability of a super-rich candidate to finance his own campaign gives him an unfair advantage. This is because election laws restrict the amount that anyone can donate to a candidate, but not the amount a candidate can spend on himself. The fact that an individual can donate no more than $2,500 to a campaign, Gingrich argues, effectively rigs elections in favor of the super rich. As is well known, millions were spent in support of Gingrich, but much of that money went to Super PACs to make attack ads against Romney, not toward subsidizing Gingrich's campaign operations. The actual Gingrich campaign ended up deep in the red. Things might have turned out differently, he believes, were there no upper limit on the amount individuals could donate to candidates themselves. Things may have turned out differently had Rick Santorum never been born, too, but election law is something Gingrich can theoretically do something about. So to review: his solution to an election law skewed to favor the wealthy is to allow unlimited campaign donations by individuals. That, he argues, would level the playing field to the advantage of the middle class -- the middle class candidates, that is, in which category Gingrich includes himself. Since limiting how much anyone can spend on his own campaign is not an option Gingrich is willing to contemplate, I guess this is the best he can offer. But if he has a problem with money in politics, apart from his inability to raise adequate amounts of it, solving that problem by allowing more money in is like throwing gasoline on a fire. And if he's not burnt, how will Gingrich repay -- what will he owe the people who gave him the gas? That question brings us back to where we started, but looking to billionaires for salvation is no solution to the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that the system itself, not just the candidates, depends on money. Until we can have elections with less money rather than more, the problem remains.