Perpetual National Elections Make the Top 1% Richer
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Sometimes words outlive their usefulness. Sometimes the gap between changing reality and the names we’ve given it grows so wide that they empty of all meaning or retain older meanings that only confuse us. “Election,” “presidential election campaign,” and “democracy” all seem like obvious candidates for name-change.
I thought about this recently as President Obama hustled around my hometown, snarling New York traffic in the name of Campaign 2012. He was, it turned out, “hosting” three back-to-back fundraising events: one at the tony Gotham Bar and Grill for 45 supporters at $35,800 a head ( the menu: roasted beet salad, steak and onion rings, with apple strudel, chocolate pecan pie, and cinnamon ice cream -- a meal meant to “shine a little light” on American farms); one for 30 Jewish supporters at the home of Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, for at least $10,000 a pop; and one at the Sheraton Hotel, evidently for the plebes of the contribution world, that cost a mere $1,000 a head. (Maybe the menu there was rubber chicken.)
In the course of his several meals, the president pledged his support for Israel (in the face of Republican charges that he is eternally soft on the subject), talked about “taxes and the economy” to his undoubtedly under-taxed listeners, and made this stirringly meaningless but rousing comment: “No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, we're one nation. We're one people. And that's what's at stake in this election."
Outside his final event, Occupy Wall Street protesters saw something else at stake, dubbing him the “1% president.” The end result from a night’s heavy lifting: $2.4 million for his election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, nowhere close to 1% of what they will need for the next year.
These were the 67th, 68th, and 69th fundraisers attended by Obama so far in 2011, or the 71st, 72nd, and 73rd. (It depended on who was counting.) In either case, we’re talking about approximately one fundraiser every five days, a total of 6% of the events in which Obama took part in this non-election year.
Think about that. You vote for the president to spend some part of 20% of his days raising money for his own future from the incredibly wealthy. Or put another way, the Washington Post now estimates that if you add in the non-fundraising, election-oriented events that involve him -- 63 so far in 2011 -- perhaps 12% of his time is taken up with campaign efforts of one sort or another; and this is what he’s been doing 12 to 24 months before the election is scheduled to happen.
New York being the home of... gulp... Wall Street (1%! 1%!), Obama doesn’t exactly have it to himself. Mitt Romney was heading into town on December 14th for his own rousing round of four fundraisers. One at the Waldorf Astoria will be hosted by -- you can’t be balder than this -- four JPMorgan Chase executives, including James B. “Jimmy” Lee, Jr., the vice chairman of the company and the “banker who battled the Obama administration over the restructuring of Chrysler LLC.” And oh yes, Romney leads Obama in funding support from billionaires, 42 to 30 (with Rick Perry taking third place at 20).
In the 2008 election, JPMorgan employees gave $4.6 million to the candidates of their choice, coming in behind only Goldman Sachs and Citigroup on The Street. Now that, I would say, is actual electoral power. Perhaps it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that the voting that matters most takes place at those fundraisers, not in the booths where, billions of dollars in attack ads later, the usual hoi polloi pull the handles on electoral slot machines.