Last night the ten highest-polling Republican presidential candidates squared off in a debate hosted by Fox News. The purpose of the debate was, in part, to allow each candidate a chance to distinguish himself from the other candidates and any potential Democratic Party opponent.
But beyond the pageantry and rehearsed rhetoric lies a quiet truth — most of the presidential candidates of both major parties are going to be begging the same campaign donors for money.
On some level this is inevitable given America’s historic wealth inequality and the ever-increasing price tag of running a mainstream presidential campaign. One estimate has the total cost for the 2016 presidential election coming in at $5 billion. Given that the top 1% of Americans own more wealth than bottom half of the country combined, it is not hard to surmise who the presidential candidates will have to pander to in order to get enough campaign cash to stay competitive.
But the links between major party candidates and donors go even deeper, according to a report by Lee Fang in The Intercept. Fang notes that major party presidential candidates are not only asking for money from the same companies and executives, they are using the same firms to manage the effort.
The Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich presidential campaigns have all have had a connection to the lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as part of their fundraising effort. Members of the firm have been listed as bundlers for presidential candidates from both major parties.
For Clinton, Akin Gump lobbyists Donald Pongrace, Scott Parven, Allison Binney, Brian Pomper and Arshi Siddiqui are listed as bundlers. Together, Akin Gump’s pro-Clinton team brought in $129,850 in the first six months of this year.
On the Republican side, Akin Gump’s Geoff Verhoff bundled $21,000 for Rubio and Tom Loeffler raised $31,500 for Bush.
Given Akin Gump’s clients, one could be forgiven for thinking that any candidate using the Akin Gump donor network is unlikely to challenge corporate power on behalf of the 99%. After all, once a candidate wins he or she will need to think about re-election which will require running back to those donors to raise the next X number of billions of dollars.
This compromising nature of donor relationships was noted in last night’s debate by, of all people, billionaire Donald Trump, who claimed he had first hand knowledge of how corrupt and broken the political system was because he himself had traded cash for influence. When pressed by debate moderator Chris Wallace as to what influence he bought specifically, Trump claimed he paid for Hillary Clinton to attend his wedding by donating money to the Clinton Foundation. Trump also claimed that many of his fellow Republican presidential candidates had asked him for money.
Previously such an open admission of what is essentially bribery might have been universally condemned, now bribery is so commonplace it barely registers when someone admits to engaging in the — arguably still criminal — practice on national television. With misconduct normalized and the prospect of ever yawning fundraising goals it appears that lobbying firms like Akin Gump are going to be even more vital to those aspiring to high office in the future.