Millions from corporations and billionaires don’t necessarily win elections.
But the amount of new money from a small group of people and businesses is an alarming trend in Oregon politics.
Consider this: Texan John Arnold, a former Enron executive turned hedge fund billionaire spent $2.75 million to lose by more than 40 points on Measure 90 – a new record for individual spending. New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg did a little less for Measure 90, only $1.93 million, but he also gave $250,000 to re-elect Governor Kitzhaber and hundreds of thousands to the State House and Senate. Don’t forget the Koch Brothers, they spent millions propping up Monica Wehby’s campaign for U.S. Senate, spending millions on attack ads. Shockingly, the list goes on and on.
And when you compare Arnold and Bloomberg to the corporations – they look a little small.
Monsanto spent nearly $6 million to defeat Measure 92, and they spent hundreds of thousands to beat back a GMO safety law in Jackson County and they somehow shoehorned in a statewide GMO pre-emption law into the grand bargain.
What is going on?
2014 was the Billionaire Election, and it might just be the sign of more things to come. In 2014 in Oregon, there were 13 contributions of over $1 million to Oregon campaigns – over three times the number from four years ago. This includes organizations and PACs, but for the first time, we saw individuals give over $1 million, and none of these big dollar donors live in Oregon.
We are used to people trying to buy elections – Loren Parks (another out-of-stater) has spent millions trying to shape our elections (this year was no different, Parks spent $100,000’s to repeal Driver Cards and attack legislators for supporting immigrants and road safety) – but this feels different. The size of the checks, and the number of the checks are larger than ever before, the connection to Oregon seems more remote, and the impact is through the roof.
Is everyone now subject to the reaction of a billionaire with a bee in their bonnet?
How did it become this way?
Two things come to mind:
First, there are just a lot more billionaires than there were 10 or 20 years ago – while the 99.9% of us barely make it despite working harder than ever, the richest 1% of the 1% are making more than ever. They have more to spend – so why not spent it on a cause du jour?
Second, Citizens United allows for uncontrolled spending anywhere – and while Oregon always has had loose campaign finance laws – now the whole country is a political playing field for some particularly wealthy folks. $1 million to a Billionaire is not that much money, really.
If this is the “new democracy” I don’t think we’ll be happy with the results. But, there’s a silver lining in the results from last night when it comes to the new Billionaire Elections: If they only have money, they won’t always win.
Take Measure 90. The Yes on 90 campaign spent over $6 million – an extraordinary amount – and they lost 2 to 1. People didn’t like their proposal, and the money didn’t change their mind.
Sen. Merkley won yesterday because he works on issues that people really agree with. The money couldn’t change that. Despite millions of negative ads against Measure 92 – they still have a chance to win because there was a core group of people that cared about what’s in our food.
So we should hope that 2016 isn’t the Big Billionaire Election, but we should be reassured that even if it is – there are some things that can’t be bought.