It’s not a new story: Some Americans are looking to the super wealthy to get us out of a political jam. This time, it might be billionaire Michael Bloomberg supposedly saving the country from a Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders race that could leave many voters without an acceptable alternative. Back in 1967, it was the GM heir Stewart Mott providing (what was then considered to be) lots of money to allow Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Wisconsin to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Johnson, mired in the Vietnam War and wounded by McCarthy, eventually withdrew from the race. We’d rely less on rich white knights If each voter in each election got $100 in publicly financed vouchers for political contributions.
Indeed, in this election cycle Donald Trump has railed against the super PACs and argued that only he, a billionaire, can serve the interests of the American people fairly because he is too rich to be influenced by big donors.
The McCarthy-Mott story is one that opponents of campaign finance limits point to in arguing against campaign finance limits. They contend we need billionaires at the ready in case our democracy gets in trouble.
But over-reliance on plutocrats threatens our democracy. In the 2012 elections, we saw Sheldon Adelson and his wife spend between $98 million to $150 million to support Republican candidates. Adelson single-handedly gave Newt Gingrich multiple additional shots at the Republican nomination, not because that’s what Republican voters wanted but because that is what the Adelsons wanted. Tom Steyer, who supports candidates who will take action on climate change, spent $75 million trying to help Democrats hold on to their Senate majority in 2014. The Koch Brothers network has pledged to spend just under $900 million on the 2016 elections.