The presidential auction of 2012
WASHINGTON — The conservative radio host Michael Savage this week presented an unusual offer to Newt Gingrich.
“Newt Gingrich is unelectable,” Savage said of the improbable new front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. “Therefore, I am offering Newt Gingrich $1 million to drop out of the presidential race for the sake of the nation.”
A million bucks? Come on, man.
Gingrich got $1.6 million being a lobby—, er, historian for Freddie Mac. He gets $60,000 a pop for speeches, by his own boastful account. He reportedly has generated $100 million in revenues by trading on his Washington connections.
Offering him $1 million to drop out of the presidential race is the political equivalent of Dr. Evil’s plan to hold the world hostage for one million dollars! But if Savage was a few zeros short on Gingrich’s price tag, his instincts were correct: Gingrich and his rivals are most definitely for sale. The Republican nominating contest resembles nothing so much as a Christie’s wine auction, as candidates accept, and toss about, dollar figures beyond the comprehension of the people they would serve.
“Tell ya what. Ten thousand bucks? Ten-thousand-dollar bet?” Mitt Romney proposed to Rick Perry in his now-infamous attempt at Saturday’s debate to resolve a dispute over health care.
Criticized for that high wager, Romney went on Fox News to say that Gingrich should return the $1.6 million from Freddie Mac. That led Gingrich, just days into his vow to stay “relentlessly positive,” to suggest that Romney should “give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees.”
The positive front-runner also took a gratuitous pop at Perry, saying of the longtime public servant: “I couldn’t imagine he could cover a bet like that.”
To most Americans, lacking a spare $10,000 wouldn’t be considered a character flaw. But Gingrich is different: a member of Donald Trump’s Trump National Golf Club, he boasted on the campaign trail recently that he didn’t have to be a lobbyist because he was getting rich on the celebrity speaking circuit.
Romney can’t exploit Gingrich’s $100 million in revenues, nor his $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s, because his own net worth is $264 million and his own speeches bring in up to $68,000. If corporations are people, as Romney says, he is a man among boys — and his vast campaign stash is the main reason he still has a good chance to beat Gingrich.
President Obama (worth: as much as $11 million) would no doubt enjoy taking on either man, although the fun will be tempered by his own struggle to bring in $1 billion for his campaign, up from $750 million last time. For now, the task of taking on the plutocrats falls to GOP candidate Jon Huntsman, whose new website, www.10kbet.com, features a photo of Romney and his Bain Capital colleagues playing with cash.
For Huntsman to pursue this attack is a bit rich (his net worth: between $16 and $71 million). But the problem is not the candidates’ net worth or their campaign cash. It’s the impression they are giving that corporate interests are receiving something in exchange for the worth they’re helping to build and the cash they’re providing.
Even the relative pauper Perry got in trouble earlier in the campaign for supporting mandatory HPV vaccination after the vaccine’s maker, Merck, gave money to his campaign. “If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” he said.
But could he be bought for the more than $28,000 he actually got from Merck? And could the billions now regularly generated in campaign contributions — nearly $4 billion in the 2010 elections alone — have something to do with all the goodies for pet corporations? Though it’s difficult to trace specific government actions to contributions, there is no doubt in the aggregate that corporate interests can buy candidates for a modest investment.
Compared to $4 billion, Michael Savage’s $1 million won’t buy much: maybe a new, better-fitting suit for Ron Paul, a nice Christmas present for Herman Cain’s wife or enough cushion so that Sarah Palin doesn’t need to pitch another reality show.
In recent days, the gadfly Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, proposed a way out of this mess: a constitutional amendment that would outlaw corporate campaign contributions, overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Ten thousand bucks says the idea goes nowhere.