Pluralistic: 02 Aug 2022

Today's links

An altered image of a 1968 George Wallace campaign rally at Madison Square Gardens, in which Wallace is speaking from a bunting-draped podium with a crowd behind him. Wallace has been replaced with a Gilded Age editorial campaign illustration depicting a portly millionaire with a money-bag for a head, limned by a blue 'supernova' effect. Stage left is a Democratic 'kicking donkey' image.

The high cost of "self-funded" Democrats (permalink)

It costs a lot to win a US election – even if it's just a race for (formerly) low-stakes offices that have emerged as culture-war battlegrounds (like school and election boards). In the 12 years since Citizens United, the dark money firehose has turned many races into plute-on-plute economic warfare, where cash from the 1% matters far more than votes from the 99%.

Republicans have a structural advantage when it comes to moneyball elections, because they are the party of rich people (or, more specifically, the party of rich farmers who convince poor turkeys to vote for Christmas by appealing to racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny and other forms of bigotry).

It's easy to make good on a campaign consisting of: "i) I will punish the people you hate and fear; ii) I will cut taxes for me and my rich pals; and iii) If governments were ever capable of doing good, that wisdom is lost to the ages, a forgotten art of a fallen civilization, like the secrets of pyramid-building. Today, the evil of governments is matched only by their incompetence."

It's really easy to govern incompetently, especially if you're committed to defunding all the agencies that protect regular people so that you can save enough on your taxes to send your failsons to The Citadel at $60k/year.

For Democrats, this poses a problem. Decades of declining union membership (abetted, it must be noted, by Democratic leadership) has all but eliminated unions as a source of campaign funding and volunteers. But for the Democratic faction that wants the party to stand for the interests of the professional/managerial class, there is a solution: "decent" rich people who can self-fund their own campaigns.

This is a terrible idea, even by the standards of the Democrats' neoliberal technocrat wing. The self-funded candidates who enter primary races are, at best, idiot dilletantes whose inherited wealth is derived from their having won a lottery by emerging from an extremely lucky orifice.

As Alexander Sammon writes for The American Prospect, party bosses love these fools because they are seen as bargains, candidates who won't tax the party's fundraising apparatus.

But there is a critical flaw in this logic: rich dilettantes make terrible candidates who lose elections to Republicans. Worse: because hereditary princelings can stay in primary races where they have no popular support, they can exhaust the fundraising resources of good candidates who can take must-win seats in the midterms.

Take Trudy Busch Valentine, the $215m scion of the Busch family, whose bid for the Dems' Missouri senate nomination has been almost entirely funded out of her own pocket (85% of the $3m she's spent came from her own bank account). She's a really, really bad candidate. She can't answer basic questions about a don't-say-gay law:

She can't answer questions about a ban on health-care for trans kids:

And she literally didn't know what Citizens United was (you can't make this shit up):

If she becomes the nominee, she will lose.

But worse, if she becomes the nominee, it will be because her primary opponent, an anti-monopoly crusader Lucas Kunce, who actually could win, because he will campaign on issues that make a material difference to the lives of Missouri voters. Hell, even if Kunce beats her in the primary, he'll go into the senate race with a supporter base whose modest funds have been depleted fighting off this disastrous "self-funder."

The thing is, this Missouri Senate race is the Democrats' to lose. The GOP candidates are a clown car: there's the Trump-endorsed (accused) wife-beater Eric Greitens, and the stunting Eric Schmitt (who wasted public money suing China over covid while serving as the state's AG). A good Democratic candidate could deliver a badly needed Senate seat.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, there's another chaotic Democratic primary, spoiled by failson Alex Lasry (who inherited his wealth from his billionaire hedge-fund looter daddy) and Sarah Godlewski, another plute who has poured millions of her own money into her campaign, staying in the race despite the fact that nearly all of her support came from her.

Both Lasry and Godlewski dropped out of the primary after spending a combined $18.5m of their own money to attack and drain the coffers of Mandela Barnes, who never debated a real candidate and effectively ran unopposed by any serious contenders. As Sammon writes, "their effectively infinite cash kept them in the race much longer than they otherwise would have been, without ever building a meaningful constituency."

In New York City, millionaire Carolyn Maloney is bidding for the 12th District House seat, presumably on the popular appeal of her heavy stake in an "eviction-happy rental apartment complex" – surely a big vote-getter for the Democratic base:

In Michigan's 5th District, Shri Thanedar has disgorged $5m from his own vast fortune despite his manifest weakness as a candidate; that money flushed out more Super PACs, including right-wing PACs (like United Democracy Project, a front for AIPAC) who've chummed the waters by dumping $5m more into the race.

We know how this turns out. The presidential bids of Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz and Tom Steyer demonstrate what should be obvious: dead-eyed billionaire wreckers and their fumbling, bumbling offspring are not popular with Democratic voters and will not win elections for Democrats. Bloomberg spent one billion dollars on his campaign and the only place he won was American Samoa, whose residents are denied votes in presidential elections.

And yet, self-funding continues to grow inside the Democratic party. Follow the Money's report shows that between 2016 and 2018, the spending by self-funders in Democratic races rose from 4% of Democratic spending to 12% – $547.5m! It's a sure thing that figure's only gone up since:

This will get worse. SCOTUS's decision in FEC v Ted Cruz removed all limits from candidates ability to pocket their donors' money to pay themselves back for the loans they make to their campaign, which allows billionaires to put millions into a campaign, then get other billionaires to bail them out with tax-free campaign donations.

This means that each member of America's ruling class can serve as a one-person Citizens United, a dark money pool of their own making. It is another step on the road to government entirely run by centimillionaires and their orifice-lotto-winning larvae.

It's not just that these are terrible candidates who will lose elections. It's also that they will crowd out small-dollar-supported progressives like AOC, who campaign (and win) on popular issues that matter to and materially improve working peoples' lives.

But of course, that's the point.

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Fred von Lohmann shreds WiFi FUD

#15yrsago Proposal to reboot and de-cruft US Copyright Law

#15yrsago Shirky explains: destroying limitations is good for culture

#15yrsago Wal-Mart pays Mexican teens $0 an hour

#15yrsago TSA chief: facial twitches fight terrorism

#10yrsago When Rudy Rucker met Kurt Gödel

#10yrsago Scientology’s “Hole” – alleged torture-camp for high-ranking execs who fell out of favor

#10yrsago Life in a city made of computers

#5yrsago UK Home Secretary evolves the self-serving crypto-denialism argument with exciting new bullshit

#5yrsago RIP, Bassel Khartabil, Syrian free culture activist executed by the Assad regime

#5yrsago Reidentification attack reveals German judge’s porn-browsing habits

#5yrsago Norwegian Islamophobes mistake bus-seat-covers for burkhas, go bonkers

#5yrsago Touring, complete: what gear survived four months of hard-wearing book-tour?

#1yrago Machine learning sucks at covid

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

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