There has to be a better way to find good leaders for Florida than riding the checkbook of another self-financing, mouthy millionaire or -- in Jeff Greene's case -- billionaire.
If you saw the interview gubernatorial candidate Greene, 63, worth $4 billion, gave to the Miami Herald late Tuesday night, you might understand why I find this man's gaudy show of wealthy advantage so repugnant, and why it's sent me over the edge. I truly believe after this election ends, both parties desperately need to revisit campaign finance reform.
The Herald reported the Palm Beach Democrat actually said "he'd seek to play kingmaker in state legislative races this summer by dumping cash into competitive state House and Senate races if he wins the Democratic nomination."
The operative word is "if" -- as in, if he wins.
"When I win the nomination I’ll be getting involved in other races," Greene told the Herald. "I hope the Republicans read this and understand the days of easy rides to controlling the House and Senate are over for good."
Read between the lines. Doesn't it sound to you as if Greene was offering his party a bribe? Pull strings, get the four other governor wannabes out of the race, and I'll write a check big enough to flip the Legislature.
The Herald said his enthusiasm waned when asked if he'd do the same should he lose in the primary. Of course he won't. That's not how a bribe works.
Open Secrets will tell you: One of the biggest open secrets in Washington is that the agency that's supposed to oversee and enforce the campaign finance laws -- the Federal Election Commission -- is notoriously ineffective. In fact, it was designed that way. The agency often takes years to resolve complaints, and political operatives have learned they can live on the edge of the law with little fear of interference from the FEC.
As for Florida's shoddy campaign finance laws, the state elections commission is way slow handling complaints and operates under a plethora of constraints the Legislature places on it. They're crying for reform.
Oh, yes, and it isn't just the obscenity of the small-fortunes that pour into political campaigns. It's the good and talented people it drives away from running. I can't tell you how many aspiring men and women eying a state office I've come across since I started work at Sunshine State News who have told me, "The first thing I'm asked is, how much money do I have and how much can I get?" Discouraged, they fall away.
Having a lot of funding may not guarantee success -- certainly it didn't for Jeb Bush in 2016, or Greene in 2010 for that matter -- but having too little is a great predictor of a loss. Today the cost of elections for virtually every office creates a barrier to entry for many would-be passionate public servants, leaving us candidate pools limited to those with wealth or access to it. I know for fact, proportionately fewer women and people of color run for and serve in office as a result.
What that does is, it narrows and distorts the policy debate, because those who give large campaign donations -- and particularly billionaires like Greene -- aren’t reflective of America’s wonderful diversity of views and backgrounds. The top 500 donors in 2014 had an average age of 66 and were overwhelmingly white and male, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. What I'm sure most of us know by now is, when politicians spend their time thinking up how to persuade just a few of us to offer support, they aren’t thinking about the rest of us. And that’s how money matters.
Most political observers doubt Greene, who made his fortune betting against the real estate market, will pull it off, no matter how tempting his money. After all, in 2010 he spent $23-plus million of his own money trying to buy a U.S. Senate seat and he failed miserably. But in 2018 money is the whole ball of wax to the parties, he's got it and this time he could actually make it happen. Certainly, the man believes in his own power.
He will run against Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine in the Democratic primary.
Sadly, Greene talked to the Herald more about his money than what he wanted to do for Florida.
Elections are now a game for billionaires, and that shouldn't be what America is all about. I admit it's very unRepublican for me to say, but I believe we all lose when our republic's distortions undermine leadership opportunity for all.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith