Plutocrats rising

Commentator David Frum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: The possibility that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might run for president has Washington abuzz. Bloomberg has $5 billion. And that's a problem, says commentator David Frum.


David Frum: $5 billion can hire the best consultants Washington has to offer, put you on the ballot in 50 states, flood the airwaves with ads. And, even if you're extravagant, you could still have maybe $4.8 billion left over.

Much of our media express rising concern about the growth of a plutocracy: people rich enough to buy anything, from a private jumbo jet to a favorable environmental ruling.

But here's what I don't get: When a plutocrat seeks to buy political office, the unease goes silent.

There have always been rich people in American politics. But over the past decade, the parties have taken to recruiting candidates solely because of their wealth — Ned Lamont in Connecticut, Jim Pederson in Arizona in the last cycle come to mind.

Yet the ascendancy of the plutocandidate is not a fact of nature.

It's inspired by America's campaign finance laws that make it incredibly difficult for the non-wealthy to raise money.

The candidates will spend as much as $200 million to win their party nominations and fight the general election. That implies raising more than $250,000 every day for two years, including Sundays, in increments of not more than $2,300. A nightmare!

It doesn't have to be this way.

Suppose we had an individual donor ceiling of $100,000. Candidates, and especially candidates for Congress, could do their fundraising quickly and then get back to the more important work of seeking votes.

Candidates feel beholden to big donors as it is. Raise the limit and paradoxically, the influence of money could diminish, because candidates would no longer have to spend every waking moment thinking about it.

And Mayor Mike might decide that his millions could best be spent on philanthropy to help the needy rather than a vanity project to serve his ego.

That's a win-win, I'd say.

Jagow: David Frum is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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