How Bloomberg And Bernie Used Campaign Finance To Hack Democracy

How Bloomberg And Bernie Used Campaign Finance To Hack Democracy

When Democrats wake up this Sunday after the South Carolina primary, there’s a fair chance their presidential race will be down to just two candidates with the resources to compete in March’s pricey primaries.
Brad Todd
By

There’s a crisis in our democracy. One of our national parties has been hijacked by a narcissistic billionaire interloper with a history of racist policies and misogynistic rhetoric and a devious plan to legally rig the election. I’m not talking about the GOP. It’s the self-styled “progressive” party held hostage, and the signature on the ransom note is Michael Bloomberg’s.

When Democrats wake up this Sunday after the South Carolina primary, there’s a fair chance their presidential race will be down to just two candidates with the resources to compete in March’s slew of pricey state contests: moneybags Bloomberg and socialist Bernie Sanders. No other Democrat candidate clearly appears to have $10 million on hand—and that’s just what it will take to compete for one or two more weeks in this race.

It’s deliciously ironic that this nomination, one Democrats have long presumed to be a prelude to a de facto inauguration after a general election they don’t believe they can lose, has devolved to two candidates who arguably are not Democrats. Sanders, despite seeking office relentlessly since 1972, has never won a Democratic nomination or ever formally joined the party. Bloomberg has spent much of his life a Republican and is still trying to dry the ink on the Democratic Party registration card he purchased just for this pursuit.

How did it happen? You can blame Russ Feingold, John McCain, Common Cause, and rank-and-file progressives who, mostly lacking a religion aside from climate eschatology, now worship at the altar of campaign finance restrictions.

In 2002, they jammed through Congress an update of U.S. campaign finance laws that were then three decades old, throwing the votes of all but 14 Democrats in Congress behind an obscure legislative procedure that prevented any rational amendments perfecting the law before passage. As a result, we got exactly the campaign finance law that these self-styled radical reformers wanted. While eviscerating political parties, this new law barely changed the failing central tenet of the post-Watergate campaign finance rubric: a draconian limitation on individual donations to federal campaigns.

Today, that limit is $2,800 per person, per race. If you’re running for Congress in one of Rhode Island’s congressional districts, which have a population of 539,000 people, you can take $2,800 per person, per race, including the primary. If you’re running for the White House, to represent 330 million people, you can also take just $2,800—even though you must raise enough to compete in primaries and caucuses in both Rhode Island districts, 49 other states, plus the territories and Puerto Rico.

When you layer in a candidate’s need to spend money early to hit national polling thresholds to qualify for cable debates televised six months before the first voting, it’s a math problem that has no good solution. It led Republicans in 2016 to launch a bevy of SuperPACs, to which supporters of specific candidates could contribute unlimited, but disclosed, amounts of money to entities that ran independent shadow campaigns on their behalf. But this year, the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party pressured its candidates to all initially eschew this element of progress in our campaign finance system.

Enter Bloomberg, with the ultimate hack of the campaign finance system. The Supreme Court has long held the First Amendment prohibits any limit on the amount of personal money a candidate can spend in the absence of loathed public financing. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren says, Bloomberg didn’t need a SuperPAC—he is a SuperPAC.

Like anything else he does in life, Bloomberg has done presidential campaigning big-ly, cruising today toward a half billion dollars of spending crammed into a matter of weeks, all before he has even appeared on the first Democrat primary ballot of his 20-year political career. It’s a scale of spending that dwarfs every other political effort in America history, and by algebraic proportions.

The only candidate with the wherewithal to combat Bloomberg’s billions is the front-runner, Sanders. His army of junkies frustrated at the Democratic political machine crashes his website’s donation page in waves to get the endorphin hit of sticking it to the man for the low, low price of a $50 or $100 credit card pull.

Now Bernie’s coffers have $20 million perpetually on hand, while the Chardonnay-track Democrats have nearly used up the $2,800 checks they got from the party’s rich people, with more than 50 nominating contests still to go. If you prefer Pete Buttigieg over Bloomberg as the #StopBernie vehicle, and you’ve already written him a $2,800 check, all you can do now is sit back and hope.

Liberals and New York Times columnists love to point to the Electoral College, or Facebook’s old-fashioned erstwhile First Amendment allegiances, or to enduring last-century notions like voting in person to proclaim that our democracy is in peril. They are right in their topline conclusion that our elections are rigged, but they’re looking in the wrong spot to find the cables and ropes that do the rigging.

Our problem is the campaign finance law. Mike and Bernie prove it. And it’s predominantly Democrats who are to blame.

Todd is the co-author of "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics," and co-founder of OnMessage Inc., a leading Republican firm that has advised Sens. Rick Scott and Josh Hawley among others.

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