Money, Power, and Politics

One of the central narratives in Democratic politics is that billionaires can (and do) buy elections with their vast resources. I hope that this election puts that to rest. 

Tom Steyer spent $191 million on his campaign for president only to withdraw after the South Carolina primary. He earned zero delegates.

Michael Bloomberg spent more than $500 million to self-fund his campaign and ended his campaign after only one day on the ballot. 

Altogether, that’s nearly $700 million spent on nothing. If “big money” could buy an election, surely that would’ve been enough. But, of course, it wasn’t enough — because you cannot buy votes.

That’s equally true for Bernie Sanders.

Bernie’s “big money” doesn’t come from his wealth or a network of millionaire/billionaire supporters but millions of small-dollar donors giving an average of USD 18 per contribution. Still, the result — access to vast sums of money for campaigning — is similar. The Sanders campaign raised $46 million in February 2020 alone — but those deep pockets didn’t carry him to victory on Super Tuesday.

I don’t mean to say that money is irrelevant in politics. Every campaign has a baseline cost for staff, materials, etc., and those bills need to get paid. But this narrative that money can buy wins is untrue.

So, where does real power come from in politics? Relationships. It was Joe Biden’s relationships, built during a lifetime of government service, that allowed him to consolidate support in the crucial moments after the South Carolina primary election. Of the four major candidates headed into Super Tuesday (Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren), Biden had raised the least money — but he prevailed, nevertheless. 

I hope that this election, and the failure of Bloomberg and Steyer to gain traction, will help put to bed the argument that millionaires and billionaires are buying votes. It’s not true! And perpetuating that narrative undermines confidence in election results.