A paradigm shift in American politics is occurring; a longshot Democratic challenger to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), raised $1.2 million during the 4th Quarter of 2017.
Randy Bryce has not even won the primary yet but he took in $1.2 million in 102,000 small contributions from 82,000 people, Politico reported. The money comes from average people that hate the Republicans and Ryan.
Bryce’s chances are limited; no Democrat has been elected from Wisconsin’s First Congressional District since 1993, The Cap Times reported. Yet he was able to raise an amount of money that Politico called “eye-popping.”
A Ryan opponent might have a chance because the Speaker’s approval rating is 44%, and his disapproval rating is also 44%, a Marquette University Law School Poll examined by The Cap Times found. That means a candidate might be able to knock him off by winning 2% or 6%.
Another development Bryce might be looking at is all the speculation Ryan plans to retire from the House and not run in 2018. The Speaker’s exit would completely change the race and might give a Democrat a chance.
Ironworker challenging Paul Ryan has accumulated $3.6 million war chest
That $1.2 million is on top of $1.4 million Bryce raised in 3rd quarter 2017 and $1 million other cash on hand, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. If these figures are correct, Bryce has a $3.6 million war chest.
It also presents a problem for Ryan who was expecting a comfortable cruise to reelection in Wisconsin’s First District. He now has to take time out from running the House of Representatives to raise money and fight the challenge. That would distract him from a tough election season and the political battles over President Trump.
Normally Bryce; who claims to be a union ironworker, would have attracted little money. Now he’s able to use the internet to rake in the dough on the same level as Ryan. Most of the money Bryce is raising is coming from out of the district, The Journal Sentinel reported.
Even if Bryce is not a great candidate; he now has a war chest that rivals Ryan’s. That can be a game changer, especially in a graying Midwestern district where most of the voters are TV-watching Baby Boomers. Bryce has the cash to flood the airwaves with anti-Ryan propaganda.
Ryan certainly has the money to fend off Bryce; he has a $10 million war chest, The Journal Sentinel reported. He’ll probably raise another $10 million after reading the stories about Bryce.
Digital Fundraising is Changing Politics
Bryce’s war chest is an indication of how digital fundraising is changing politics. Just last year, another Democratic challenger to Ryan; Cathy Myers, raised just $182,656 in 3rd quarter 2017.
What has changed since then is digital fundraising of the type pioneered by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in last year’s Democratic primary. All candidates have to do to raise huge amounts of money from out of district is add a donation to their websites and Facebook pages.
This provides an inherent advantage because a candidate that relies on digital fundraising will be able to spend more time actually campaigning and connecting with voters. A politician who uses traditional fundraising will have to take a lot of time out to attend fundraisers and huddle with donors. We saw an example of this in the 2016 presidential election when Sanders and Donald J. Trump; who ignored traditional fundraising, were able to spend far more time campaigning than Clinton.
Such developments are likely to limit the power and influence of the donor class, but not to kill it. Wealthy donors still have some intrinsic advantages; such as the ability to make payments fast and to pay money directly to strategists or advertisers rather than candidates. Wealthy contributors can make sure the candidate does not divert the funds into his overseas bank account; small donors have no way to prevent such fraud.
Something to remember is that raising a lot of money will not guarantee victory in politics. In 2016, Hillary R. Clinton raised more money than Donald J. Trump (R-New York) and still lost. Sander’s fundraising exceeded Clinton’s during the Democratic presidential primaries – yet he still lost. Jeb Bush (R-Florida) collected more donations than Trump and still lost the Republican primary.
Despite their limits, the new donation strategies are likely to push issues the donors hate; like trade, tariffs, restrictions on immigration, the $15 dollar minimum wage, income tax increases, single-payer healthcare, and Social Security increases to the top of the agenda. Politicians like Hillary Clinton (D-New York) that ignore such issues in an attempt to rake in more donor cash are likely to do badly in future contests.
This certainly presents problems to Democratic Party establishment because it allows leftists like Sanders and Bryce to bypass it. There are also some serious ethical and philosophical questions here.
Is Digital Fundraising Bad?
Is this fair to the people of the First District, what happens to local control when candidates are beholden to out of district donors. We already have a situation where politicians like Ryan are more responsive to big donors like the Koch Brothers than their constituents.
What happens when all a candidate has to do is give ideologically charged speeches on C-Span and rake in the cash to get reelected. Who would Bryce really represent the people of the First District of Wisconsin or all the out of state donors? Worse, would contributors outside the United States be able to influence the election.
Stories like this will certainly rekindle the debates over money in politics and demands for taxpayer funding of political campaigns. One has to wonder political contestants will look like when Christians, Pro-Lifers, White Nationalists, and others on the Right start mimicking the fundraising tactics Bryce is employing.
Another development would be a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey or Mark Zuckerberg to mount a massive digital fundraising campaign. Zuckerberg’s Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) social media empire; which reaches more than two billion people around the globe, might rake in cash from all over the world. Oprah would be able to use her celebrity to beg for donations on every talk show.
The Dangers from Digital Donations
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” – 1st Timothy 6:10, King James Version.
Such questions raise troublesome ethical and political questions. A fraudster would be able to launch a fake campaign that would only exist to collect donations from gullible donors. Charitable scams and prosperity preachers provide a template for this.
Another problem would be the ability of foreign money to influence elections. What happens when every European who despises President Trump is able to donate a pound or a Euro to his opponents? Worse, what happens if the Chinese Communist Party orders each of its 89.45 million members to donate $10 to a particular candidate? That would give a candidate an $894.50 million war chest to play with.
We have already seen the havoc wreaked by questionable allegations of Russian meddling in social media. Just imagine the carnage that would result if Wikileaks or The New York Times uncovered hard evidence of foreign digital donations influencing a U.S. election.
Expect to see debates over digital fundraising and its effects become a major political issue soon. All it will take is one $100 million contest for the US House of Representatives to put the issue at the forefront of national debate.
One development is certain here; political races are about to get a lot more expensive, and TV station advertising sales reps and political consultants are going to be very happy. They are going to be rolling in the dough thanks to digital contributions.
That alone should drive us to question these new fundraising methods. The opportunity for digital fundraising to increase the power and influence of ordinary voters is vast. Unfortunately, the capacity of digital fundraising to corrupt or distort the political process is just as great. Only time will tell will digital fundraising enhances democracy or drags the political process down to new lows.