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BK Blog Post
Posted by Jeffrey Clements.
Jeffrey Clements is a cofounder and general counsel of Free Speech for People, a national, nonpartisan campaign to oppose corporate personhood and pass the People’s Rights Amendment.
A recent National Review article, while purporting to pooh-pooh the influence of big money in politics, actually confirms the existence of a wealth primary.
The article, by a political analyst using the pseudonym “Lawrence Brinton,” assesses the relative prospects of the current crop of presidential candidates, but with a particular focus on the GOP primary.
The article involves a number of questionable assumptions and claims, but in some respects it hits the nail on the head:
To win the GOP primary and, more important, the general election, a candidate must be able to play to both grassroots supporters and the major donors. Since the dawn of the era of Internet campaigns, beginning in the 2000 election, no candidate in either party who was not, at this point in the election cycle, in the top two in grassroots fundraising has won the nomination, nor has any candidate outside the top three in major-donor funding. Candidates who cannot win the support of major donors ultimately lack the qualities to be competitive in a general election. Influential votes and voices matter, and not just for their money. This is why candidates such as Bernie Sanders are extremely unlikely to be president, no matter how much money they raise. Conversely, candidates whom big donors love but who do not excite the base can sometimes be lifted by the establishment to the nomination but have no hope in the general election. This why candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, despite his enormous major-donor fundraising totals, went absolutely nowhere in the GOP primaries. Ultimately, it is candidates who — e.g. Obama and George W. Bush — excite the grassroots and do well with major donors who win.
In other words, Brinton argues that successful presidential candidates must successfully appeal to two constituencies:
A candidate must win the approval of both of these constituencies; without substantial support in either group, the candidate cannot succeed.
A candidate who does not appeal to ordinary voters will not succeed. We call this democracy.
A candidate who does not appeal to major donors will not succeed. We call this the wealth primary. And the fact that a candidate who appeals to voters cannot succeed without also winning the favor of the extremely unrepresentative donor class infringes on the right to vote. That’s why money in politics is a civil rights issue, and that’s why Free Speech For People is continuing to fight to restore the constitutional promise of political equality for all.