Up there in the thin air of Aspen, Colo., Newt Gingrich propagated a falsehood of American politics. The one about how wealthy people running for elective office “buy” their positions. Would that were true. Yes, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, there is too much money sloshing around in politics. But voters time and again have proven they can’t be bought.
According to a dispatch from the Aspen Ideas Festival by the Atlantic’s David Graham, the former speaker of the House and 2012 Republican presidential candidate whose campaign was awash in Sheldon Adelson cash said, “I have no problem with billionaires having strong opinions. . . . I have every problem with Mayor Bloomberg being able to buy the election in New York.” Bloomberg didn’t buy any of his three terms in office. He earned them.
Y’all know this, but I’m compelled to remind you that I was a policy adviser on Bloomberg’s first campaign for mayor in 2001. All a self-financed campaign buys the candidate is the ability to get his or her message out. If that message neither resonates with nor is to the liking of voters they will not vote for you. Bloomberg, a first-time office seeker in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, beat his Democratic opponent by less than threepercentage points in 2001. Great stewardship of the city propelled him to reelection by a 20-point margin. The goodwill and good feeling New Yorkers had for him almost evaporated during his third run for mayor. Overturning the term-limits law angered New Yorkers so much that his anemically financed Democratic challenger came within 5 points of beating him.
But Bloomberg’s ballot-box success is the exception, not the rule. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that between 2002 and 2012, of the 159 House and Senate candidates who spent $1 million or more of their own money on their races, only 23 were elected. Remember Meg Whitman’s failed bid for California governor in 2010? She spent $175 million of her own money to get electorally blown out by then-state attorney general Jerry Brown. And then there were other failed candidacies of the past. Ross Perot ran for president (1992). Michael Huffington ran for Senate for California (1994). Pierre Rinfret sought the governorship of New York (1990). Even the Koch brothers’ attempt to win the White House and the Senate for Republicans in 2012 failed.
The reason for this is simple. Money doesn’t automatically buy elections and to say otherwise is an insult to voters. People want their voices heard. No amount of money will muffle them.
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