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Friday, 02 March 2018 06:06

The Rise of the Billionaire Candidate

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

zuckerbergWill Mark Zuckerberg be another billionaire running for president? (JD Lasica)

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Trump's status as a billionaire was very much part of what propelled him into the White House. In fact, it could be argued that he wouldn't have been a viable candidate had he not cultivated the brand of a billionaire. After all, not every person who wants to run for president receives instant credibility as a contender (beginning with the media), not every person is included in the debates, and not every person can afford the cost of a national race. Furthermore, it was Trump's stint as the hard-as-nails billionaire on The Apprentice television series which gave him the image of leadership in the public eye.

Of course, the most important asset of a billionaire running for high office is money. There is no limit on financing one's own campaign because the Supreme Court has ruled that self-financing a campaign is akin to exercising free speech. We don't know Trump's actual net worth because he has not released his income taxes, but we saw that he was able to pour money into his campaign.

It is a standard complaint of most non-wealthy politicians that they have to spend more time fundraising than working on public policy. A billionaire, on the other hand, just enters a race and then is free to spend personal wealth at will. Plus, to many voters, the very fact of being a billionaire establishes a certain credibility, indicating a type of success that they believe could translate to the political arena.

One doesn't need to be a billionaire to achieve political credibility through wealth; being a multi-millionaire may be sufficient. However, as Michael Bloomberg -- former mayor of New York -- showed, the billionaire imprimatur has its advantages, and the line between wealth and politics becomes increasingly blurred.

Illinois, as Don Wiener details in a February 19 Center for Media and Democracy article, may see a billionaire vs. billionaire battle for governor in the November election. Bruce Rauner, the Republican incumbent, and Democrat J.B. Pritzker (a Hyatt Hotel heir) will face each other if both emerge as victors in their March primaries. Wiener writes,

The March 20, 2018 Illinois gubernatorial primary is on track to become the most expensive in Illinois history, thanks to millions being put on the line by three billionaires.

One-sixth of all campaign money raised for all Illinois elections, including city, county, and state, from January 2013 through January 2018 was raised by just three people: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, his billionaire buddy, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin [a supporter], and Hyatt Hotel heir JB Pritzker, who is running in the Democratic primary.

To kick-off his primary run and re-election, Rauner gave himself $58 million at the very end of 2016. Griffin gave Rauner $20 million in July 2017 and $2.25 million in December 2017. With Pritzker giving himself $49 million for the Democratic primary, this means almost $130 million has already been raised by only three people.

It should be noted that before Rauner became governor nearly four years ago, he had never held office. J.B. Pritzker has never held office. Being a billionaire gives you an instant seat at the table.

However, Wiener notes, being a billionaire doesn't always guarantee a win. Meg Whitman (who earned her fortune at eBay) spent $144 million of her own money in an unsuccessful attempt to become governor of California in 2010, losing to current Gov. Jerry Brown.

Now we are seeing the corporate media foment speculation about other potential billionaires who might run for president. Remember last fall when Oprah gave a #metoo speech at an awards ceremony, and the question of whether she might run for president was suddenly everywhere? She has reportedly amassed more than $4 billion in wealth, and she has given contradictory signals about whether she would consider seeking the highest office in the land. A CNBC article characterizes part of Oprah's consideration this way,

Oprah has previously indicated that she might be harboring political ambitions. And, in a March interview, Bloomberg's David Rubenstein suggested that she could could be the one to break what Hillary Clinton called that highest, hardest glass ceiling.

While Oprah didn't answer with a resounding "yes," she did reveal her surprise that experience is no longer necessarily a job requirement: "I never considered the question even a possibility. I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't have the experience, I don't know enough.' Now I'm thinking, 'Oh!'"

Yes, there it is again: You no longer need experience in government to become president. Be a billionaire! Be a celebrity! Or better yet, be both! The CNBC article also lists Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg, both billionaires, among potential contenders.

Be very wary of mixing extreme wealth, fame and public office.