AL HOFFMAN, A FLORIDA real estate developer and ambassador to Portugal during the George W. Bush administration, gave over a million dollars in 2015 to Right to Rise, the Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s Titanic-like presidential campaign.
Rather than acknowledge that he feels silly, however, Hoffman is trying to make himself sound noble. And in doing so, he is revealing more than he probably intended.
In a USA Today op-ed headlined “Big Donors Can Save Democracy From Donald Trump,” Hoffman tries to make the case that Trump has gone off the rails because he doesn’t have people like Hoffman telling him what to do.
Here’s how Hoffman puts it: “Large donors … often serve as an executive board of sorts, challenging campaigns to act worthy of their investment.”
Hoffman writes, “Trump brags that he is without big donors. That may be true. But it also means he is without restraint. … In business and politics alike, oversight is a good thing.”
If you’re not paying close attention, that makes the whole process sound public-spirited and inspiring. If you are, however, you realize Hoffman is telling us that he and his cohort see their money as buying them seats on the board of a corporation they ultimately control.
Hoffman acknowledges a possible downside of the system: “Raising seven figures for a candidate grants you access that the average voter will never see. This unfairness has been a source of major voter ire this cycle. Injustice makes people angry. And it is angry voters who have been pulling levers for Trump.”
But he dismisses it in favor of an even loftier goal. Big donors aren’t just backing a candidate, he says; they’re also investing in their ideology.
“Even his critics would agree that Jeb released the most detailed set of policies and reforms in the race,” writes Hoffman. “Seeing these ideas thrive and live beyond the candidate makes for a worthy investment. In my heart, that is a proper and just use of big money in politics.”
In other words, Jeb Bush can lose — as can any of the other sweaty, hopeful throng of politicians backed by Hoffman — and Hoffman and his friends will still feel like winners. Victory is enough Americans feeling it’s common sense that we face an “insatiable Russia,” or that regulations on Wall Street “choke economic activity,” or that slashing tax rates for the 1 percent will “unleash” the economy.
That’s one reason why money in politics matters even when it’s backing a loser. Al Hoffman is telling us straight up: Big money in U.S. politics isn’t just about buying individual elections, or individual candidates. It’s also about buying space in our minds.