America is not for sale

For far too long, billionaires have had their way in America. Now they've bought their way into our election. Photo by Elizabeth Baummer.

America is not for sale

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author. 

Two weeks ago, twelve candidates lined the stage at the October Democratic Presidential Debate to convince the Ohio crowd — and the American public — why they are the best choice for America. The debate went as expected; front-runners tried to stay ahead, middle-of-the-pack candidates tried to make a name for themselves with soundbites and cute quips and Cory Booker stood there talking about love again. However, one candidate joined the party late.

Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and billionaire, joined the race in early July and made his debut on the debate stage. Since then, he’s shot his way up the polls, amassing the necessary qualifications, including 2 percent in four approved polls and donations from 130,000 people. Steyer is a self-proclaimed ‘progressive outsider.’ His priorities include reducing economic inequality and eliminating the corporate stronghold on Washington. Steyer is not a captivating or exciting candidate and remains highly unlikely to receive the nomination. However, his acceleration shows a flaw within the Democratic debate system, the election process and our politics at large.

Steyer, essentially, bought his spot in this race. Within the first month of his candidacy, he spent $7 million on television ads alone, in addition to the $2.6 million he spent on digital advertisements. He spent nearly $50 million on impeachment ad campaigns and plans to spend another $90 million during this campaign. According to The New York Magazine, Steyer’s $150+ million campaign funding could fund nearly 1,000 Democratic state legislative candidates. Along with visiting a few key states, this was all the notoriety he needed to get on stage.

Popular candidates usually transfer money from their prior re-election campaigns to their presidential bids, which gives them a little boost in the beginning. Most no-name candidates have to trek across the country, send out emails to their constituents, meet with campaign boards and kiss babies to stay afloat in the campaign. However, Steyer’s massive wealth let him cut ahead of the line.

Even worse, his main concern in this race is reducing corporate influence in Washington. Alas, the irony! The tycoon’s plan to reduce corporate corruption in politics is to run for the most powerful office in the country, and, worse, to cheat his way there. How can Steyer call Donald Trump unfit for office and have the exact same qualifications he does? How can anyone trust that Steyer won’t put his own interest ahead of the interests of the country? How can Steyer fight economic inequality when his only asset is the cause of said inequality?

Steyer’s ascension through the polls and into the Democratic debates is the culmination of everything wrong with Washington. Billionaires assume that their money is a prerequisite to do just about anything. Perhaps everyone forgot the last time a billionaire entered politics and claimed that he was the answer to all of Washington’s problems.

Since America’s foundation, the wealthy have ignored the rules and rigged the system to benefit them. They have dodged taxes, lobbied in Congress and bought the support of lawmakers and members of Congress. The republic that the framers designed has mutated into an oligarchy, favoring the will of the rich and powerful instead of the will of the public. Now the affluent have compromised our election process, the crux of our democratic system.

We cannot afford to have a back door for billionaires in our politics and, even worse, in our election process. Billionaires cheating the system is wrong. Accumulating substantial amounts of wealth does not permit you to disregard the rules. Being wealthy isn’t a replacement for being qualified. Qualifications, political history and policy positions aren’t optional. While anyone can run for president, this doesn’t mean just anyone should run for president. Right now, the system is broken and it is not wise to trust the wealthy to put it back together.

America is not for sale.