by Nicholas Waddy
As the Democratic presidential field begins to take shape, liberal and left-wing billionaires are shopping around for the best candidate to support. Some, as we shall see, are also seeking to torpedo President Trump’s presidency through impeachment long before the 2020 election takes place.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of what these billionaires have already accomplished: they helped elect a Democratic House of Representatives in 2018 that largely can be relied upon to do their bidding. In other words, the Democrats have become what they always professed to loath: a party propped up by big-money interests and beholden to a small clique of ambitious billionaires.
In 2010, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. FEC that independent groups (and thus corporations and the super-rich) could spend unlimited amounts of money on political advocacy. Democrats cried foul. Capitalist and conservative interests would use this constitutional “loophole,” claimed the Left, to flood the airwaves with regressive propaganda, nullifying democracy and trampling the rights of the American people.
Just a few years later, the Democrats are singing a different tune. In 2018, the Democrats took over the House of Representatives, financed – irony of ironies! – by massive infusions of cash from unaccountable left-wing billionaires. Topping the list of the Democratic Party’s deep pocketed liberal stalwarts are Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg.
Steyer’s political advocacy groups, including “Need to Impeach” and “NextGen Climate Action,” spent more than $120 million in 2018, much of it from Steyer’s own $1.6 billion fortune. Steyer has concentrated his efforts (in which he plays a starring role) on building momentum for a campaign to impeach President Trump, but he has also worked hard to increase youth and minority turnout to benefit Democratic candidates across the country.
Meanwhile, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pumped millions of dollars into a massive effort to elect candidates who support gun control. All told, he spent in excess of $100 million in 2018, much of it through his Super PAC “Independence USA,” which undertook a surgically precise effort to boost Democratic House candidates in swing districts.
Since many of the Democratic victories in critical House races were achieved by minuscule margins, many political observers view Bloomberg’s largesse as the critical factor that allowed Democrats to flip the House. Certainly Democratic candidates (and their backers) managed to outspend even incumbent Republicans in many districts, thanks in large part to Bloomberg.
Steyer and Bloomberg assert that their tens of millions of dollars were meant to help “save democracy” from the depredations of the greatest supervillain of all time: President Donald Trump. It pays to consider the question, however, whether “democracy” is really the ultimate goal for either man. Their records suggest otherwise.
Consider that both Steyer and Bloomberg have shown a willingness, even a burgeoning enthusiasm, for end-running democratic processes when those processes don’t produce the outcomes that these imperious tycoons desire, or when their financial interests would be better served by a different outcome.
For instance, Steyer and Bloomberg both have embraced the agenda of combating climate change, which for them means attempting to hobble and delegitimize the fossil fuel industry through smear tactics, disinvestment campaigns, and nuisance lawsuits, all while they realign their investments to profit from the expected shift of the U.S. economy toward (largely impractical) sources of renewable and “green” energy.
Steyer has supported, mostly by covert means, legal efforts to sue fossil fuel producers for the anticipated future costs climate change might impose on municipalities and states. Former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman even appears to have sought donations from Steyer in return for initiating a bogus lawsuit against oil giant ExxonMobil in line with the infamous “La Jolla playbook.” The playbook is essentially a how-to manual for the destruction of the fossil fuel industry, using techniques of legal harassment and media manipulation.
Bloomberg, if anything, has been even more aggressive in supporting the onslaught against the energy industry, bankrolling staff in various state attorneys general offices tasked with pursuing “climate justice,” i.e. the evisceration of oil and coal companies that compete with Bloomberg’s favored green energy suppliers. In effect, Bloomberg is subcontracting his profit-seeking vendetta against “Big Oil” to Democratic state attorneys general, who are more than willing to accept his dubious “charity.” A more naked conflict of interest in the administration of American justice would be hard to imagine.
The lesson is clear: not only have Democrats turned their backs on their principles by allowing our democracy to be compromised by big-money interests—they simultaneously have turned over the metaphorical keys to the city of American politics to ruthless, self-interested billionaires, whose records suggest that they see elections as but one tool in their expansive toolkits to achieve federal, state, and local government compliance with their wishes.
We haven’t seen the last of Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. Today, they may be bankrolling negative ads to elect left-wing Democrats to the House. Tomorrow, and the next day, they will be using their vast fortunes to make sure those same Democrats do their bidding, and to retain teams of high-priced lawyers to bend the nation’s courts to their will.
And that’s not all. Recent reports indicate that Bloomberg is planning to spend at least $500 million in 2020 to oust Trump, upping the stakes even further.
Is it “democracy” that the American people voted for in 2018, or plutocracy? We’ll know soon enough.
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Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.