Recent data from Personal Capital, a financial management company, shows the personal net worths of some presidential contenders.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump leads with $4.1 billion. Democrat front-runner and former Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton holds over $30 million. Carly Fiorina, Republican hopeful and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has $59 million. Former Governor Jeb Bush has $22 million, and Rand Paul (R-KY) has $1.3 million. Breakout star Bernie Sanders (I-VT) trails with $300,000, but has over 6x the national net worth median of $44,900.
Wealth segregates the political class from us mere mortals. This nation was founded with the intent that only propertied white men should have access to and involvement in public affairs. It’s no coincidence that the nation’s first president had a net worth of $525 million in 2010 dollars.
In recent years, access to financial capital has been an especially crucial determinant of political success. The Citizens United SCOTUS decision ruled constitutional the formation of super PACs – outside entities that are allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds on elections, so long as these groups do not coordinate with official campaigns. The results have been disastrous.
Candidates are in a never-ending rat race to court big donors, and beef up their affiliated super PACs. Already, Jeb Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise, has raised over $100 million. Hillary Clinton’s super PAC Priorities USA Action, has raised $16 million with hopes of raising at least $200 million overall.
President Obama took a neo-populist approach in an effort to financially compete in the national electoral forum. In 2008, he raised over $500 million in small online donations by effectively leveraging social media, digital communications, and social grassroots marketing. His ability to digitally crowdsource his campaign singlehandedly legitimized the practice which, at the time, was in its infancy.
Financial well-being as a prerequisite in presidential politics is a stark reminder that the ability to run for federal executive office is exclusionary, despite the prevailing ethos that bootstraps and grassroots buy-in is the method for attaining public office.
Financial wellsprings exist beyond presidential rank. Super PACs have spent millions on unqualified, morally and rationally deficient Tea Party candidates who rely on these funding sources coupled with rampant gerrymandering to secure congressional and senatorial seats.
Super PACs throw money behind those most likely to win elections.
Super PACs throw money behind those most likely to win elections. And candidates with insurmountable wealth are deemed most likely to realize victory. Wealth provides access, resources, influence, and reach, and ultimately positions candidates to better orchestrate highly sensitive national campaigns that require extreme efficiency, comprehensiveness, and strategic coordination for successful execution.
And we, the 99% of us, are alienated to the outskirts while the giants clash on our battlefield.