Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, as we have previously observed, are spending an absolutely staggering amount of money on their vanity campaigns:
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent well over $100 million on advertising since entering the Democratic presidential primary about a month ago — a head-spinning sum of money for ad buys that dwarfs most of his competition and highlights the unique advantages of being a billionaire in a highly competitive contest.
Only one other candidate has come close to Bloomberg in spending on ads: the other billionaire in the Democratic primary, former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, who has been in the race since July. Combined, the two tycoons have spent roughly $200 million on ad buys, Advertising Analytics, a firm that monitors ad campaign purchases, told NPR.
Bloomberg and Steyer have broken records left and right with their vast war chests. Bloomberg’s initial television ad buy of more than $30 million upon entering the race immediately made history as the most money a presidential candidate has ever spent in a week in a primary.
The two billionaires in the 2020 race have spent more than double the total combined ad spending of every other candidate in the primary over the course of the entire year.
According to Advertising Analytics, Steyer’s and Bloomberg’s ad buys equal about a quarter of the advertising money spent in the 2016 presidential cycle — including both the primaries and the general election.
On one level, this demonstrates that the influence of campaign spending is limited; neither of them are going to win the nomination. On the other hand, the money is buying them attention other, more serious candidates can’t get. Steyer bought his way to the debate stage, and Bloomberg has a higher RCP average than, say, Amy Klobuchar. Billionaire eogmaniacs have the power to distort primary races even if they can’t buy nominations, and that’s bad enough.
This should all be seen in the context of Krugman’s recent essay about how the excessive influence of the extremely rich has a powerful impact on policy outcomes:
The first thing you need to know about the very rich is that they are, politically, different from you and me. Don’t be fooled by the handful of prominent liberal or liberal-ish billionaires; systematic studies of the politics of the ultrawealthy show that they are very conservative, obsessed with tax cuts, opposed to environmental and financial regulation, eager to cut social programs.
The second thing you need to know is that the rich often get what they want, even when most of the public want the opposite. For example, a vast majority of voters — including a majority of self-identified Republicans — believe that corporations pay too little in taxes. Yet the signature domestic policy of the Trump administration was a huge corporate tax cut.
Or to take an issue close to Warren’s heart — and her signature policy achievements — most Americans, including a plurality of Republicans, favor tougher regulation of big banks; yet even before Donald Trump took office, the relatively mild regulations put into effect after the 2008 financial crisis were under sustained political assault.
Why do a small number of rich people exert so much influence in what is supposed to be a democracy? Campaign contributions are only part of the story. Equally if not more important is the network of billionaire-financed think tanks, lobbying groups and so on that shapes public discourse. And then there’s the revolving door: It’s depressingly normal for former officials from both parties to take jobs with big banks, corporations and consulting firms, and the prospect of such employment can’t help but influence policy while they’re still in office.
Last but not least, media coverage of policy issues all too often seems to reflect the views of the wealthy.
As he goes on to say, the fact that reporters (at least when Democratic presidents are in office) feel free to treat the desirability of putting a high priority on deficit reduction as an objective fact is the ultimate example of this.