Jul 01, 2016

    Money rules 'democratic' US' presidential race

    THE news in the United States these past days has been that Donald Trump's campaign had only US$1.3 million (S$1.8 million) in cash on hand at the end of May, in stark contrast to the US$42 million held by his rival Hillary Clinton's campaign.

    Compared to the US$28 million raised by Democratic front runner Clinton in May, Mr Trump - the presumptive Republican candidate - took in a meagre US$3.1 million that month.

    Many have been shocked by his inability to raise funds at a time when the Republican National Committee has not fully thrown its weight behind him.

    The New York real-estate mogul has been self-funding his campaign during most of the primaries.

    Many people are waiting to see whether such a large fund-raising gap will be narrowed in the months leading up to the November election.

    This, however, overlooks a key issue: the influence of money in politics, which is widely regarded as a cancer in US politics today.

    Mrs Clinton does look to be bullish and powerful in fund-raising. The latest report shows that she will soon tap into President Barack Obama's e-mail list that helped his campaign rake in some US$500 million through e-mail and online donations in the 2012 race.

    Just on Monday, Mrs Clinton attended a fund-raiser in New York City attended by Hollywood stars such as Leo-nardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Jessica Parker.

    Mr Obama, who has complained about money in politics, has also been criticised for doing nothing about it during his presidency. He will soon spend much time hitting the campaign trails to raise money and support for Mrs Clinton.

    The mania in the US for political fund-raising has worsened since the 2010 Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United case.

    The case opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign finance, much of it in the form of super political action committees (PACs) that pool campaign funds for or against candidates or proposed legislation.

    According to data released by the Federal Election Commission on May 23, Mrs Clinton had raised some US$85 million while her super PACs amounted to US$229 million, compared with US$3.3 million and US$63 million for Mr Trump. This week, he has accused her of raising "blood money" from Wall Street.

    Sadly, Bernie Sanders, the only candidate who has constantly taken on the campaign finance system head on in each and every rally, will not be his party's nominee.

    Mr Sanders called the campaign finance system "corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests".

    "I fear very much that... government of the people, by the people, and for the people is beginning to perish in the United States of America," he said.

    Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are deeply concerned about the problem. A Pew Center poll released last December found that 76 per cent in both camps believe money has greater influence on politics today than ever before.

    Over 60 per cent believe the high cost of presidential campaigns discourages good candidates.

    Such public grievances are also reflected in a Gallup poll early last month that found a very low percentage of Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" confidence in their institutions, including the presidency, Congress, the criminal justice system, the media and big business.

    It is ironic that in the self-proclaimed greatest democracy in the world, because of money, a large percentage of Americans will be forced to make a choice between the lesser of two evils in electing their president in November.