A recent headline in The Washington Post may have said it best: the central theme in the 2016 presidential race so far is “money, money, money, money, money.” While they all talk about attracting grassroots and small-donor support, the 2016 candidates are depending on big money from wealthy donors to propel them to the White House.
So what makes big donors give those six- and seven-figure checks?
Some candidates offer special prize packages, ranking donors in groups by how much they give. The Unintimidated PAC, a super PAC supporting Scott Walker’s yet-to-be announced presidential bid recently created a document titled “2015 Program Benefits” to lay what donors get from different donation amounts.
The Unintimidated PAC’s $1 million donors become members of the “Executive Board” and are invited to bi-annual retreats, member-only briefings and conference calls, two private dinners with VIP special guests, and even given a dedicated staff contact to cater to their needs. Other big donors can be members of the “Executive Committee” ($500,000 level) and the “Platinum Membership” ($250,000), and get similar perks.
Jeb Bush has also set up donor tiers for his Right to Rise organizations, ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. Bush slipped earlier this month and said he was running for president even though he has not formally announced as he continues to raise unlimited money for a network of PACs, Super PACs, and dark money nonprofits. He recently hosted an exclusive private summit for his biggest donors at lavish $700-a-night hotel in South Beach, Florida.
Other candidates have special programs to reward “bundlers,” major donors who organize other wealthy individuals to give to the candidate. Hillary Clinton bundlers who raise $27,000 in 30 days – or who get 10 donors to give the legal maximum of $2,700 each to the Clinton campaign – are dubbed “Hillstarters” and are rewarded with an invitation to a special fundraising summit with Hillary Clinton and senior campaign staff.
Ted Cruz has a similar and more ambitious bundling program. A Cruz for President campaign document, “Ted Cruz Bundling Benefits,” describes four bundler tiers: “Founders” ($500,000), “Statesmen” ($250,000), “Generals” ($100,000), and Federalists ($50,000). Cruz’s “Founders” get invited to a “special retreat” with Cruz and his wife Heidi, quarterly dinners at Cruz’s home, and a VIP package to the Republican National Convention.
There’s a good chance that one of these folks will be our next President, elected leader of all 300-million plus Americans. But most are starting their quest for office by focusing their attention on a handful big-money donors instead of listening to everyday voters. The special access these wealthy donors and bundlers get is just another example of the imbalance in our system of electing leaders in the post Citizens United era.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics
Tags: Fighting Big Money