Let's keep candidates off Wall Street
Commentator Robert Reich
TEXT OF COMMENTARY
SCOTT JAGOW: Hillary Clinton gave a speech this week to the Wall Street investment bankers at Bear Stearns. A few weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani spoke. Bear Stearns has invited all the major presidential candidates to come and talk and raise money. Commentator Robert Reich doesn't like it.
ROBERT REICH: I may be old-fashioned, but I liked it the old way when presidential candidates spent months trudging through New Hampshire and Iowa, addressing citizens at town meetings and in living rooms.
It used to be that's how candidates got known.
Now candidates spend less time addressing coffee klatches in Iowa and New Hampshire and more time addressing . . . well, investment banks.
Partly this is because the presidential election now starts long before even the first state primary, which means the major candidates on both sides are already national celebrities.
They don't need to spend time at meetings sponsored by the Marshall Town, Iowa Chamber of Commerce or by the Nashua, New Hampshire League of Women Voters. Everyone already knows the major candidates.
But it's become more important to address firms like Bear Stearns because that's where the money is.
The big-state primaries will be air wars, where the candidates duke it out in television ads, followed by a general election requiring even more TV ads. And TV ads cost lots of money. It's estimated that the 2008 presidential election will cost a total of over $2 billion — most of it going into television advertising.
Not surprisingly, the national media — which has a strong financial stake in seeing this sum continue to rise — is already handicapping the primaries according to how much money each candidate has raised so far.
And where do candidates in search of big bucks turn? Increasingly, to Wall Street.
In 2004, Wall Street contributed a total of $339 million to candidates for federal office, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. That's about 60 percent more than the second-largest sources of funds, which were corporate lobbyists and lawyers.
But as presidential politics morphs from town meetings in Iowa to investment banking meetings on Wall Street, you gotta wonder what the presidential candidates are hearing about America.
JAGOW: Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich now teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.