In the last presidential race, a handful of billionaires handed over millions to their favored candidate to try and sway the outcome of the race. One such billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, gave $95 million to political committees supporting Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates.
Imagine how many lives could have been improved, even saved with a $95 million contribution to charities in need.
I don’t think any of us are delusional enough to believe that a donation of that scope and size isn’t given without an expectation of something in return. Money buys power, and in politics, power means influence and influence means votes. Wealthy donors on both sides of the aisle are buying votes. It’s that simple.
In Arizona, our legislators are looking to lap up some of that money. With guidance from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and the Goldwater Institute, Republican J.D. Mesnard sponsored a bill to increase individual contributions to legislators more than ten-fold. That’s TEN times the previous donation limit.
HB2593, signed into law by the Governor last week, does several things to ensure wealthy constituents and powerful PACs (Political Action Committees) have the power to buy legislators.
The revised law allows individuals to give $2500 to candidates for a primary election and another $2500 for the general election. The prior limit was $488 total. There was no distinction between primary and general.
Put another way, if it takes $50,000 to run a successful state legislative race, candidates need only appeal to 10 individual donors. In reality, that number could be even less because the bill also changes the limits on PAC money.
Before, PACs had a $2,000 limit. It was raised to $5,000.
But what’s even more insidious is that PACs no longer have a limit on the total number of dollars they can give in an election year. In other words, instead of being able to influence a handful of races, powerful PACs can now influence as many races as they want.
Limits on the total amounts given by individuals have also been eliminated, meaning an individual can give $5,000 to as many candidates he/she wants as well as many thousands of dollars to PACs, political parties and independent expenditures.
The Republicans who support this legislation say it’s a way to combat “dark money.” Please. Do they really think voters are gullible enough to believe that? This bill does nothing to shed light on the donors behind “dark money,” nothing to end the money laundering that occurred in the last election.
What the bill does is thwart the will of Arizonans who voted to make it more difficult for a handful of wealthy individuals to buy elections. Arizonans approved Clean Elections to try and remove money as the deciding factor in a race. Regardless of whether or not the bill is deemed constitutional, it is clearly NOT written in the interest of furthering the will of a voter-approved initiative.
This bill isn’t about the will of the voters. It’s about making life easier for legislators. They don’t need to appeal to a wide majority of citizens, just a small minority of wealthy donors with an agenda.
It’s a win-win for legislators and special interest groups and a lose-lose for representative democracy.