The Dangers of Self-Funded Political Campaigns

Michael Bloomberg announces his candidacy for Democratic nominee of President of the United States. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By Evgeny Stolyarov

February 6th, 2020

The nomination of a Democratic contender for President of the United States began on Monday with the Iowa caucuses. Due to a poorly developed app, results were delayed and amid this confusion, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and billionaire, went on a spending spree. Even though Bloomberg did not get a single delegate from Iowa, he plans on winning the nomination by being the alternative moderate to the progressives. Bloomberg has made multiple unconventional decisions but by far the most consequential one is not accepting any donations. In other words, Bloomberg is fully self-funding his campaign to, as he claims, catch up with the rest of the campaigns who have been fundraising for months.

Fully self-funded candidates do not feel the need to listen to concerns from certain voters and do not reflect the actual beliefs of the voters. Furthermore, self-funded campaigns pose a threat to the basic idea of democracy — politicians represent the beliefs of the voters.

Self-funded candidates do not need to worry about donations and therefore face no consequences of alienating a part of the electorate. Political candidates usually ensure to have broad support to increase donations, but self-funded candidates do not feel the need to do this. 

For example, Pete Buttigieg, another Democratic contender, apologized after a video resurfaced of him saying “All Lives Matter”, a response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement popularized by the Republican party. One of the reasons for his apology is the fact that Buttigieg needs to appeal to all voters, including African Americans, to raise as much money as possible.

Bloomberg, on the other hand, can make derogatory as he did in 2016 when he called transwomen a “man wearing a dress”. Bloomberg has not yet apologized for the statement and the fact that he is self-funding his campaign and does not require to fundraise from the LGBTQ+ community means he probably will not apologize.

Some claim that a political candidate, no matter whether self-funded or funded by millions of contributions, still needs to appeal to voters to win. The idea is that self-funding in itself is not an issue since if a candidate has an unpopular position, she/he simply will not win the election.

Whilst there is some truth to that, self-funding candidates simply do not allow voters to choose a candidate based on merit. The two most reliable ways of garnering support are through advertisement or campaigning. Usually, candidates use a combination of both, but Bloomberg’s strategy has been to outspend all candidates on advertisement and spend far less time campaigning, something no other candidate can afford. This means that whenever a voter is exposed to Bloomberg, it is not through personal contact like a rally or local event but instead a T.V. advertisement. This means voters do not make their decision based on the actual merit of a candidate and instead choose the image constructed by the candidate through advertisement.

According to Politico, just in the months of May to August, Buttigieg held 240 events where voters were able to meet the candidate. On the other hand, according to CNBC, Bloomberg has spent more than $180 million dollars of his own money, far more than any other Democratic contender. The majority of the money went to advertisement. This further shows how self-funded candidates are exposed to voters through ads and not campaign events.

Due to a combination of self-funded candidates being able to disregard certain parts of the electorate and voters basing their beliefs not on the actual merit of a candidate, the problem with self-funded candidates and campaigns is clear. In a democracy of “we, the people”, politicians are expected to accurately represent the beliefs of their constituents and voters. Self-funded candidates simply do not do that. Voters instead should choose a candidate that does not self-fund and donate to them to stand against the undemocratic candidacies of self-funded campaigns.

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