It’s becoming de rigueur for Democrats to refuse money from PACs and industry lobbyists, but Elizabeth Warren announced today that she’s taking it a step further:
There’s another huge way in which money influences presidential campaigns. It usually goes unspoken, but I want to call it out: Candidates for public office in America spend way too much time with wealthy donors.
Consider this: For every time you see a presidential candidate talking with voters at a town hall, rally, or local diner, those same candidates are spending three or four or five times as long with wealthy donors — on the phone, or in conference rooms at hedge fund offices, or at fancy receptions and intimate dinners — all behind closed doors.
Even when the candidate’s heart is in the right place and the donor is well-intentioned, that time creates a direct relationship between wealth and access to our political leaders. I believe that’s wrong: The amount of money you can give shouldn’t determine the amount of time you get to spend with a candidate…
So I’ve made a decision: My presidential primary campaign will be run on the principle of equal access for anybody who joins it.
That means no fancy receptions or big money fundraisers only with people who can write the big checks. And when I thank the people giving to my campaign, it will not be based on the size of their donation. It means that wealthy donors won’t be able to purchase better seats or one-on-one time with me at our events. And it means I won’t be doing “call time,” which is when candidates take hours to call wealthy donors to ask for their support. As a candidate for president, the expectation is you make hours of these calls a week and attend dozens of these exclusive events every quarter.
I’m saying no to that. I am grateful for every donation we get — and we need every single one! — but what matters more, much more, is that everybody who supports my campaign is treated equally, regardless of how much they can afford to give. And doing things this way will give me hundreds and hundreds of hours of time back to spend with more voters, grassroots donors, and volunteers.
She’s right, of course — the current fundraising system does amplify the voices of the wealthy. Democrats (and yes, Sanders too) have demonstrated you can raise scads of money if you get a lot of people to contribute a little, but even Mr. $27 sucked up to rich liberals like Ben & Jerry, didn’t he?
I don’t have a sense of how much money Warren or any other candidate would leave on the table by refusing to cater to wealthy donors who want face time. Is Warren’s move a unilateral disarmament that will give her opponents a huge — perhaps insurmountable — advantage? Is it smart politics in an era where addressing wealth inequality is an urgent priority for Democratic voters?
Beats me. But leaving aside political strategy considerations, I like the idea.