But it’s not what you think …
So here’s the deal. Congress is filled with millionaires. Lots of them, And the new Congress is no exception: it’s packed with lots of millionaires.
At the same time, people running for office have to raise millions of dollars to have a credible chance of winning (assuming they’re not running in a safe district with no opposition). Two Congressional races near me cost over $6 and $8 million dollars, respectively, factoring in the SuperPAC money. (Neither was in an expensive media market.) That’s a lot of cash coming in.
Ipso facto, then: raising money might make one rich. Take the money you raise, put it in your pocket … millionaire status awaits!
Except that’s not really what happens. Ironically, the rise in the percentage of millionaires in Congress over the last 30 years is as much a function of the laws governing campaign finance in the US as of anything else.
Here’s the deal: under federal campaign finance law, candidates for federal office who raise money for their campaigns can only raise fairly small amounts of money at a time. Right now, individuals can give a candidate to federal office up to $2500 in the primary, and another $2500 in the general election. (This may sound like a lot to you, but a maximum $2500 contribution is .0003% of an $8,000,000 campaign.) The rules are different for SuperPACs, which is why they exist. But any individual contribution is small relative to the overall cost of a campaign.
The reason for this is simple: if the relative significance of any individual contribution is small, then the likelihood of it leading to political corruption is low. If I say “vote my way or I won’t give you $2500!,” you can laugh me off—you don’t need my money that badly.
However, the small relative size of any individual contribution means that a candidate has to spend a huge amount of time raising money. (The SuperPACs may change this, but haven’t yet.) It’s an enormous drag on a candidate’s time. Indeed, once elected it’s an enormous drag on elected officials’ time: they spend a huge chunk of their time fundraising for their next election. If they’re a party leader, they also spend a lot of time fundraising for others in their party. It has become the most time-consuming thing elected officials do—even more than legislating.
The thing is, if you’re rich already, you can sidestep most federal campaign finance rules. If you don’t raise any money, but instead just spend your own, there really aren’t many limitations on what you can do. You can spend as much as you wish, rather than being limited by what you can raise. You don’t have to spend any time fundraising, eliminating a major hassle AND freeing up your time to go around shaking peoples’ hands and otherwise engaging in real electoral politics.
In other words, since you don’t have to go around asking people to give you their money, you don’t have to do anywhere near the same kinds of things that non-wealthy candidates have to do to get themselves a serious chance of being elected.
Of course, rich candidates don’t always win. Neither does the best-financed candidate. But the simple fact is that it is easier to get elected to Congress today if you’re already rich than it is if you’re not. One reason for this is the way campaign finance law works. Thus a law passed (in 1974) to protect us from political corruption has also helped the rich get elected to the offices from which they pass laws eliminating the estate tax, reducing (or eliminating) taxes on capital gains and other income they earn, and the like.
Which lots of people think is corrupt.
Welcome to my favorite political topic: irony in politics.
I’d like to point out one other thing: Running for office is a full time volunteer gig. Wealthy people tend to have the sorts of jobs and resources that allow one to go without income, or with a severely reduced income, for an extended period of time. Let alone the kinds of jobs where you can take a year long break and then come back to work.
In today’s Daily Comment, Steve Coll argues that putting an end to gerrymandering would help to build a better democracy by fully enfranchising voters:
…the House Republicans’ check on Obama’s power is not truly democratic; indeed, it is based on extreme ideas that would be marginalized if not for the creative drawing of districts.
Every time someone blames gerrymandering for the pickle we’ve found ourselves in for governance, I vomit a little.
- closed A Bedford, Va. jewelry store owner closed his business on Wednesday, in protest of Obama’s victory. He said he was in mourning. ”I just didn’t feel like coming to work,” R.T. Lyons said. “There are many days I feel like that as a small business owner.”
- fired In Las Vegas, a man named “David” called up a local radio station and said he had laid off 22 people in an effort to protect his investment. “Well unfortunately, and most of my employees are Hispanic — I’m not gonna go into what kind of company I have, but I have mostly Hispanic employees — well unfortunately we know what happened and I can’t wait around anymore, I have to be proactive,” he said.
- cutting One Georgia business owner told C-SPAN that he told his employees that he was cutting their hours. “Yesterday I called all my part-time employees in and said because Obama won I was cutting their hours from 30 to 25 a week so i would not fall under the Obamacare mandate,” Stu, who did not give his full name, said.
- reconsidering After warning his employees before the election that he might lay them off if Obama wins, Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel appears to have changed his mind — at least a little. “We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile I gave everybody in the company a raise this week—the average was 5 percent. I wanted to help them handle the additional burdens the government will put on them,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek.
It’s good to see that conservatives are taking this whole election thing well.
in light of the contentious nature of the upcoming election, and some of the rhetoric indicating possible civil unrest, I have decided to close the community gates 24/7.
Cottages of Woodstock, Ga. HOA president Bill Stanley • Saying in an e-mail to residents that they would lock the gates to the community out of fear of civil unrest. The community is made up of people 55 and over. Some have previously suggested civil unrest if Obama is elected again. These people are on crack. (via shortformblog)
Everybody’s lost their fucking minds!
President Obama’s biggest fan.
She is both fired up and ready to go.
Is there a myth about indepedent voters?
“This premise is based on the greatest myth in American politics: that independents are actually independent. They are not. As numerous studies have shown, the overwhelming majority of Americans who say there are “independent” lean toward one party or the other. Call them IINOs, or Independents In Name Only. IINOs who say they lean toward the Republicans think and vote just like regular Republicans. IINOs who say they lean toward the Democrats think and vote just like regular Democrats.”
Ruy Teixeira, The Great Illusion