Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) recently made a little-discussed power move against billionaire candidates, and it’s desperately needed for the 2020 race.
Near the end of her January 2 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Sen. Warren made a bold demand of all 2020 Democratic candidates — to not only reject super PAC money, but to reject self-funding altogether. (emphasis ours)
“Is this going to be a Democratic primary that truly is a grassroots movement that is funded by the grassroots, that’s done with grassroots volunteers, or is this gonna be something that’s just one more plaything that billionaires can buy?” Warren said.
“This is a moment for all of the democratic nominees as they come into the race to say, in a Democratic primary, we are going to link arms, and we’re going to say grassroots funding. No to the billionaires. No to the billionaires, whether they’re self-funding or whether they’re funding PACs,” she continued. “We are the Democratic Party, and that’s the party of the people.”
This is a significant move from not only a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, but from a household-name candidate like Warren. The 2020 field is likely to be crowded with billionaires, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (who went to first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa in 2017), billionaire former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (who hired a PR team in November, several months after leaving Starbucks), and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ranks #10 on the Forbes 400.
Warren’s move has already arguably impacted the Democratic field of candidates for 2020. Billionaire investor Tom Steyer — the man behind the ad campaigns pushing for the impeachment of Donald Trump — announced Wednesday that he will not seek the presidency. A Steyer spokesperson told the New York Times the reason why he was choosing not to run was that Steyer “could have a greater political impact through his impeachment activism.” However, the growing populist momentum in the Democratic Party undoubtedly also played a role in his decision.
President Trump catapulted to stardom partially due to the estimated $5 billion in free wall-to-wall media coverage due to his propensity to make newsworthy statements, but also due to self-funding of his presidential campaign. Campaign finance filings at the end of 2016 showed that Trump spent roughly $66 million of his own money on his presidential run. While that’s short of the $100 million self-funding figure he bandied around, it’s still evident that Trump is the first presidential candidate to win office with the help of his own bank account.
The central theme of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is that she’s returning government from the billionaires back to the people. She repeatedly told Maddow in her interview that Washington was “working great, fabulously, for the wealthy and the well-connected,” saying American oligarchs have “bought the government they want.” All of that is true.
Discouraging candidates from self-funding or from accepting super PAC money this early in the presidential primary is a revolutionary move to make sure that the candidates who do run — and there will be many — will be accountable to grassroots donors, rather than billionaire donors. Hopefully Warren’s challenge will be heeded by all future 2020 candidates.