The 2016 race for the White House is officially months away, but another, shadow campaign is already in full swing – taking place not with confetti and balloons, but with expensive wine at fancy dinners and aboard luxury yachts.
These are the places where presidential hopefuls and political operatives court high-rolling campaign donors, the men and women who will dump millions into the accounts of their chosen candidate's campaign or that of a super-PAC designed to push their agenda.
“Without it, you’re pretty much dead in the water,” said Bill Burton, a former top Obama aide and Democratic Party campaign operative. “That’s the unfortunate part about this system. That it’s so built around money that if you don’t have money it’s hard to get into the game and the people who do have money are going to be given a lot more, now that the Supreme Court has ruled like this.”
But the son of one of the country’s wealthiest men told ABC News today he plans to turn the system against itself by spending his own millions for candidates he hopes will reform the system and undercut the power of people like him.
“It’s ironic. We’re the first to acknowledge the irony,” said Jonathan Soros, son of liberal billionaire George Soros. “At the end of the day, you’re dealing with the rules [by] which people get elected and we’re not going to win this issue with hang wringing and good intentions… You actually need to demonstrate to candidates that it’s in their best interest to be for reform and against their interest to be against it. Money is part of that.”
The younger Soros’ comments came a day after the Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to strike down aggregate limits on campaign contributions from individuals, meaning anyone with the will and the resources can give the maximum amount to every single candidate for federal office.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Chief Justice John Robert said in his written opinion.
But according to Lisa Rosenberg of the Sunlight Foundation, the ruling could leave average Americans without a say.
“Your voice is going to be completely drowned out by these massive contribution from just a few, wealthy, interested parties,” she said.
On the Republican side, there’s been a parade of potential Presidential candidates to see casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who could once against spend about $100 million dollars in the next Presidential Race -- if, advisors say, he finds the right candidate.
And then there’s the secretive David Koch, along with his brother Charles, who are also good for close to $100 million for the candidates who they say support core American values – men vilified by Democrats.
“These two men are a pair of shadowy billionaires, spending millions of dollars to rig our political system,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said of the brothers just today at a press conference.
But Democrats have their own big money figures. In addition to the elder Soros who regularly spreads his wealth to Democratic campaigns and party organizations, California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer has put out the word he too will put up $100 million for the coming election cycle.
Soros’ son will be paying up too -- $1 million a year of his own cash – but into a super PAC designed to gather millions more in support of candidates he says are “committed to changing the current system.”
“We now have a democracy that is basically a disagreement among rich people. That leaves ordinary people on the side,” the younger Soros said. “I don’t have a problem with individuals participating in the political process and being able to spend money in favor of their own views. The problem is when there is no alternative when candidates are dependent entirely on large contributions and independent expenditures, it skews the entire system and leaves everybody else out.
“We’re not looking for people to play by a different set of rules or tie one hand behind their back, but who can express a genuine commitment that they see a different path for our democracy,” he said.