Friday, April 8, 2016

(Im)pertinent questions

I got to a (heated? my opposite number would probably call it that) discussion the other day—with someone whom I don't know—about Hillary Clinton. I'll preface this by saying that if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, I will vote for her, no question, but in the Texas primary, I voted for Bernie, and—all else being equal—I would prefer that he get the nomination.
The discussion arose because I objected to being called a "BernieBro." My support for Bernie has zero to do with Hillary being a woman; it has nothing to do with my wanting to get something for free; and, as indicated above, I’m not a “Bernie or Bust” kind of guy. As much as I like and admire Hillary, she doesn’t have my support for the nomination because the positions she’s staked out on the issues I think are most important are too conservative. In particular, I think Hillary is insufficiently concerned about wealth inequality, and I think that as president she would be likely to institute policies that would increase it, not decrease it.
I think you can probably project onto Hillary Clinton whatever views you want on the issue of wealth inequality, at least on a personal level. She’s a Democrat, so you would expect her generally to be opposed to wealth inequality, but she’s a DLCer, so maybe not. Wealth inequality is a big women’s issue, so maybe; but she’s personally rather wealthy, so maybe not.
Of course, her personal views are largely irrelevant. What causes my misgivings about Hillary—aside from some structural problems I have with the way the system appears to have been gamed for her in ways that hurt the Democratic Party, which may or may not be her fault—is a figure I ran across the other day from OpenSecrets. According to their analysis, Hillary’s campaign (along with nominally outside groups that align with her) has received more than $21 million in contributions from people who work in the “securities and investment” industry. That’s the largest single industry to contribute to her election effort. A further $5 million has come from people who work in “miscellaneous finance.”
I’m not naive; I know that money is required to run campaigns, and that money has to come from somewhere, especially if you’re not a billionaire and can’t simply write the check. When the modern campaign finance rules were written shortly after Watergate, it was possible to fund your campaign based on contributions from people who supported your election because they liked your views, or how you voted. Yes, contributors likely got access in ways that non-contributors didn’t, but the quid-pro-quo was less explicit.
In today’s world, I don’t think we can live under that pretense anymore. The amount of money raised and spent is so enormous that it can’t not have an impact on how an elected official will vote. When I was in college, a candidate for Congress would need to have access to around $250,000 per election cycle to run a credible campaign. That’s a lot of money, but it could easily be raised from small donors entirely in one’s district. Today, which is closer to 20 years later than I like to admit, to run for Congress, it takes 12 times as much to run a credible campaign.  For that reason, it’s necessary to raise funds virtually every day of the year to keep up. So the lobbyists, the executives, the moneyed elite have a political advantage over the common person; they can save a candidate an enormous amount of time by contributing bundled hard money to the campaign and other money to PACs that support the candidate.
That is the system we live under, and it will continue to be that way as long as Citizens United is the law of the land.
So the question is, why would these people contribute to political candidates? I will admit somewhat to being puzzled over that question generally.  I've never made a political contribution of any size to any candidate for any office.  Probably the biggest part of the reason for that is that I've never really been in a financial position where it made sense to spend money in that way.  But I've never been particularly motivated to have "my guy" in a particular office.
But I am particularly interested to hear the answer with regard to contributions from the financial sector to Hillary Clinton. After all, these are bankers and stock brokers and financial advisors and hedge fund managers—people whose primary job it is to understand how best to invest money for a profitable return.
I jokingly asked my opposite number, a Hillary supporter, if she thought maybe they contributed to her because they liked her hairstyle. Seeing an opportunity, she complained that I was a sexist for saying that she only supported Hillary because of her hairstyle and not because she is an accomplished person who would make a good president.
Yeah, I don’t follow it either.
(For the record, I couldn’t care less about Hillary’s hair or anything else about her physical appearance—body, clothes, hair, or whatever. I can’t believe it even had to be said.)
When her attempt to smear me didn't work, she shifted gears:  Isn't your candidate, she asked, owned by the NRA?  Didn't the NRA buy him his Senate seat in Vermont?
Actually, Bernie has routinely been given very low grades by the NRA—D-minus in the last rating, and frequently an F.  He does not strike me as a friend to the NRA.  He does represent a rural state with a lot of hunters, and he has taken what I think is a very commonsense position on gun control:  What is right for New York City may not be right for Vermont.
But we weren't talking about Bernie and guns.  We were talking about Hillary and the millions of dollars she has taken from people who work in the financial services industry.
Anyway, I couldn’t pin her down to an answer to my question: If Hillary’s so well aligned with my views on banking and the economy, and, more largely, on wealth inequality, why are all of these bankers bankrolling her campaign, to the tune of more than $26 million?  Many of these checks are written for the maximum amount allowed by law, $2700.  And these aren't secretaries and mailroom clerks writing these checks.  They're top-level executives.  To someone who makes millions of dollars per year, it's a small amount (which they tend to augment with larger contributions to PACs).  What do they know about Hillary that isn't apparent to the rest of us?  What are they expecting in return for the financial help they're giving her?
These people do not strike me as the kind of folks who don't expect to see a return on their investment. 

But I am nothing if not fair.  I would like someone to give me an answer to my questions that is something other than "she's on the banksters' side."

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