Olean Times Herald - EDITORIAL: OUTSIDE MONEY IS THE PROBLEM IN POLITICS, NOT THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS
Elise Stefanik’s campaign spokesman, Leonardo Alcivar, seems to think it’s fair to judge the worth of political candidates by their ability to raise money.
He recently said the five Democrats who are campaigning for their party’s nomination to oppose Stefanik in the fall in New York’s 21st Congressional District are “among the weakest fundraisers in the entire country.”
He called their fundraising numbers, which are dwarfed by Stefanik’s fat bankroll, “embarrassing.”
If elections were decided only by the amount of money raised, then in November of 2016, Hillary Clinton would have crushed Donald Trump.
Clinton raised almost $800 million, Trump just about half that.
Alcivar might have called that embarrassing for Trump, but winning the presidential election probably relieved the shame of it all.
Stefanik’s money-raising prowess has been downright Clintonesque. She has $1.5 million in her campaign account, more than half of it from political action committees and another big chunk from large individual contributors.
Less than 6 percent of her cash has come from small individual contributors who gave $200 or less.
Among the candidates trying to unseat her, the top money-raiser is Democrat Tedra Cobb, with about $300,000.
Of the five Democrats seeking the nomination, Patrick Nelson has raised the least — less than $60,000. If you think a candidate’s pride in his campaign comes from cash on hand, then it’s a miracle Nelson dares to show his face.
But politics is also about ideas. It’s about standing up for things you believe in. It’s about listening to your constituents and being an advocate for them.
Unfortunately, Alcivar’s attitude reflects a reality — although money alone doesn’t decide elections, having more money provides a candidate with a large advantage.
Trump won despite having half Clinton’s war chest, but he also received an enormous amount of free publicity in the media, especially on television.
The dynamic is much simpler in lower-profile races like the one Stefanik and her challengers will wage to represent us in Congress. The candidate with the most money can buy the most advertising, creating the most prominent profile and most positive image. If a race gets tight, money can buy lots of negative advertising about your opponent, too.
So money is a huge advantage, and incumbency gives you a head start in the money-raising race. Unless a congressional seat is open, as ours was when Stefanik first ran, the chances for change are slim.
Money sucks the vitality out of our democracy. Members of Congress stay in place for decades, and while there, they spend an inordinate amount of their time raising money.
The money corrupts the system. It bothers us that Stefanik’s top contributor this election cycle has been the banking behemoth Goldman Sachs, at $20,800. You don’t have to argue a quid pro quo to believe that large contributions influence a politician when it comes time to make policy decisions. Last year, Stefanik supported the “Financial Choice Act” to roll back the strict banking regulations passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse. (Recently, Congress passed and Trump signed a milder rollback, which benefits mostly smaller banks.)
We admire the candidates devoting the time and, often, their own money on long-shot bids for Congress. We admire Stefanik for her own long-shot bid in 2014.
There is nothing shameful about a congressional candidate short on cash. There is something shameful about a political system awash in outside money, especially when that money determines the government’s agenda, as it does in ours.