Commentary

Money in politics? No problem.

on

There will be no problem with money in politics this year. Such problems arise only when Republicans have more money than Democrats.

Hillary Clinton has let it get about that she will be spending $2.5 billion this time. If that number is even roughly accurate, it means that she will spend far more than all of her Republican opponents combined.

Hillary will portray the $2.5 billion as a) a way to get her message out, b) a way to make the process more inclusive and c) a way to fight back against the scourges of Wichita, the Koch brothers. Somebody, somewhere will buy her story.

You could say that if the Koch brothers didn’t exist the Democrats would have to invent them. You could say that, but you would be wrong. The Democrats did invent the Koch brothers. Over the past six years, the Koch fundraising circle, as estimable as it is, has never been even remotely competitive with the Obama money machine. Over the next two, it won’t be even remotely competitive with the Clinton machine. The Koch brothers, alas, rarely dominate elections. They just play political villains on TV.

There’s a qualitative difference, too, between the Kochs and the Clintons. While the entrepreneurs who fund alongside the Kochs no doubt hope that regulatory agencies will lighten up and that the Ex-Im Bank will go away, Clinton donors represent a swarm of rent-seekers. As we learned back in the ‘Nineties when the Clintons were auctioning off the Lincoln Bedroom, and as we were reminded last year when Hillary was shaking down foreign governments for her foundation, all Clinton fundraising is transactional.

Think about that. Hillary’s $2.5 billion would represent a very thick stack of IOUs. It could take even the Clintons a long time to pay them off. Who knows, she may be thinking she needs two terms.

Imagine if, say, Ted Cruz were to spend $2.5 billion. I’m just guessing here, but the press might see that as a problem –perhaps as a dark, corrupting and (yes!) obscene new force in American politics. Just guessing.

Obama shattered all previous records by raising $1 billion last time around. To hit the big $2.5, Hillary will have to be not just shameless but innovative. It says here that she will be. Who else would have thought to “monetize the incumbency” at the State Department? Who else would have turned the office once held by Thomas Jefferson into a dialing-for-dollars shop?

Think about that one, too. Would Dean Rusk have sluiced foreign government funds to a private venture? Warren Christopher? Cy Vance? Even John Kerry? (And those are just Democrats. If anybody had made the suggestion to George Schultz, he would have had them perp-walked out of Foggy Bottom the same day.)

Campaign fundraising comes in two sizes. Too large and too small. As a conservative, of course, I am familiar only with the latter. But over the years I have observed one or two of the former – campaigns, that is, with more money than useful purpose. What happens, especially in the last few weeks of a campaign, can be unsightly. Aides with check-signing authority start throwing money at ill-defined but vaguely defensible targets. The objective is to finish the campaign with a zero bank balance, so that nobody can say the candidate didn’t need every single penny raised. (Funny thing. That late spending flurry can have the collateral benefit of leaving an aide’s future nest well feathered.)

Tip to media covering the Clinton campaign: some of you will be fascinated by the quid pro quo deals made to bring in the money. A nubile story, to be sure, and one that should be pursued doggedly. A few of you, though, would be well advised to watch how the money is spent. Those last few hundred millions won’t be needed for any legitimate campaign purpose.

Jeb Bush huddled here in Florida last weekend with his top donors and the vibes were all but giddy. Bush is required to report his fundraising results by July, but he may leak the number earlier. It will be large. (His aides haven’t bothered to push back against rumors that it will top $100 million.) The Bush number, reported or leaked, will be intended to intimidate his GOP rivals. It won’t.

We should end this dreary review on an upbeat note. One of the happy and I suspect unintended consequences of Citizens United is that insurgent candidates now have a chance to make their case against the establishment favorite. On the Republican side, at least, there will be no “inevitable” candidate. It’s now clear that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and quite possibly others will have the resources to make a credible run against Bush.

About Neal B. Freeman

Neal B. Freeman is a member of the Board of Directors of The Maine Heritage Policy Center. He serves as the Chairman of The Blackwell Corporation, an advisory firm with clients in the communications, defense and wealth management businesses. The company was founded by Mr. Freeman in 1981. Mr. Freeman’s articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, Washingtonian, National Review, International Economy and other publications. Additionally, he was long associated with the late William F. Buckley Jr. in various publishing, broadcasting and political ventures. Mr. Freeman received his BA magna cum laude from Yale University.

Recommended for you

Comments