It's hard not to get caught up in the new space race — the tourism space race that makes us mortals close our eyes and dream of seeing the earth as a blue marble instead of planning a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium or to the Grand Canyon.
So when multi-billionaires Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and yet-to-fly Elon Musk try to one-up each other's dream come true, it's hard not to ask, "why not me?"
The answer is simple: All it takes is money. Money and the willingness to spend it to get what you want.
The Bransons, Bezos and Musks of the world spend it to go to space — or just a hair past the edge of it. For Bezos and his three passengers, their Tuesday thrill took 11 minutes and put them 66.5 miles high.
This brings us to what you may think is a strange crossroad — billionaires, money, politics and voting.
We said earlier that all it takes is money. Money and the willingness to spend it to get what you want.
What some billionaire spenders want is political influence. And they happily spend to get it.
It's little wonder that the cost of federal elections rises almost every year — what with billionaires climbing over each other to ante it up in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that gave Super PACs and political committees a green light to raise and spend unlimited funds.
The result is that America's system of privately financed campaigns gives a small minority of wealthy donors and special interests unparalleled clout. Roughly a fifth of all Super PAC money raised through late 2018 came from just 11 people, The Washington Post reported that year.
This year, an Issue One report based on campaign finance data compiled by the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics found that just 12 megadonors from both sides of the aisle made a combined $3.4 billion in contributions to federal candidates and political groups in the past decade. That was 7.5% of the overall $45 billion donated to federal political causes between January 2009 and December 2020, or $1 of every $13.
The single biggest Republican donor was the late Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave more than $218 million to Republican campaigns and outside groups during the 2020 cycle. Adelson also sunk a whopping $90 million into a new pro-Trump super PAC to boost the then-president in the last two months of his losing election campaign.
On the Democratic side, in addition to the unprecedented amounts Bloomberg L.P. founder Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer put into their own respective presidential campaigns, each put another $300 million into supporting various other Democratic causes.
This brings us to the junction in our crossroads analogy of voting and the "For the People Act."
No, this unlikely-to-pass bill is not just about voting rights and the unspooling of Jim Crow 2.0. as 17 states and counting have passed 28 new laws to make voting unnecessarily harder. It's also about campaign finance. And that, perhaps more than fear of more votes cast by people of color and younger balloters, may be what Republicans truly dread about the For the People bill, which lies strangled in the Senate by the filibuster rule.
One of the signature provisions in H.R.1 (and S.1) is small donor matching, intended as an antidote to big money politics.
The provision proposes matching public funds — .01% of the overall federal budget over 10 years — to amplify small private contributions to federal candidates. (The matching fund would be self funding, and not use any taxpayer revenue.)
Small donor matching would give members of Congress a viable option to fund their campaigns without relying on wealthy campaign donors and allow them to fund-raise while connecting with ordinary voters. It would help curb corruption and bolster flagging confidence in our democracy. And it would bolster the diversity of donors, officeholders, and candidates and represent exactly the sort of transformative change voters have demanded and Congress promised to deliver, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The bill's supporters insist the law would set the floor for voting rights. Truth be told, ground-leveling as it might be, we think it's not tough enough. It does not include provisions to fight the growing insideousness of election subversion, where partisan election officials or incumbents might use their powers to overturn electoral outcomes.
We're see this already in Georgia, where some Democrats on local boards, including people of color, are losing their positions, thanks to Georgia's new law restricting voting and giving the legislature power to take over election officiating.
That's why Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.,, took a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the road to Atlanta for its first "field" hearing in 20 years — to put a spotlight on the new voting restrictions imposed by Republican majority state legislatures. As committee chairman, she hopes to build a case for the stalled voting rights bill. No Republican members of the panel attended. So much for bipartisanship.
Most Americans favor fair and just voting rights and laws, and most want voting to be accessible, easy and simple. Most also want money influence out of campaigns and away from our elected representatives.
And most want to know our votes are counted, not manipulated or negated by a partisan party that after the count chooses to replace election officials to decertify our choices.
Either as a whole or split apart in pieces, voting rights reform and anti-subversion bills must be embraced and passed.