Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015...3:37 pm

Editorial: Democracy or oligarchy?

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Are you familiar with any of these folks: Norman Braman, Paul Singer or Fred Eychanar?

Give up? They are some of the Jewish billionaires bankrolling presidential candidates in 2016.

Some of the other Jewish mega-donors in politics likely have higher name recognition: Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Some support Democrats and some open their wallets for Republicans.

Writing in the May 29 issue of the Forward, Nathan Guttman surveyed the list of top donors in 2014 campaigns and found that a least a third “of the most generous 50 mega-givers were Jewish. In fact, contributions from Jewish billionaires and multi-millionaires dominated the top 10 spots on the list.”

Guttman continued: “Striking, yet unsurprising. Political activists have known for years that members of the Jewish community are over-represented in the field of political contributions. And now, with the 2016 election cycle beginning to warm up, these Jewish donors are on the minds of all prospective candidates.”

A Jewish chauvinist might take pride in the fact that our co-religionists are major players in American politics; however, many others are concerned that individuals with immense personal wealth have tilted the playing field to the detriment of the nation functioning as a real democracy.

Ari Berman, in a recent article in The Nation, titled “How the Money Primary Is Undermining Voting Rights,” posed the issue this way: “When the wealthiest Americans dominate every facet of political life — from who runs, to who wins, to which issues are addressed, to how our leaders govern — what happens to the voting rights of everyone else?”

Berman’s article surveys the political landscape in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates by allowing unlimited contributions from corporations, individuals and unions to so-called Super PACs… The cost of federal elections increased by nearly $2 billion from 2008 to 2012 as a result of Citizens United.”

The Supreme Court, according to Berman, “further deregulated the campaign-finance system in McCutcheon v. FEC by striking down limits on individual contributions to federal candidates, parties and political-action committees.”

Berman quoted David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, which supports public financing of campaigns: “There’s always been a wealth primary. Now it’s a billionaire primary.”

Jews are exceptionally civic-minded, perhaps owing to an unfortunate history stretching back many generations, to the Old Land of Woe. We know that you might not be interested in politics, but sometimes politics is interested in you.

In any case, American Jews vote in high numbers, and our moneyed elite, as Guttman notes, dominates the field of political kingmakers, so to speak.

Money doesn’t talk, it screams in politics; and again, there are dissident voices trying to rein in the influence of money in politics. Like Bernie Sanders.

My colleague, Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, thinks that, at least, the Independent senator from Vermont is raising a host of issues that should figure in the 2016 political debates (his article appears in the June 5 print edition of the AJW).

On Sunday, Bernie Sanders, according to a report in The New Yorker, told a huge throng in Minneapolis: “Our country belongs to all of our people and not just a handful of billionaires.”

I thought that Sanders’ appearance at the Minneapolis American Indian Center was newsworthy and should be reported in the Jewish World. I was thinking of a photo and caption. So I drove over for the 9:30 a.m. bagels and coffee reception, prior to the town meeting with Sanders. As I drove down Bloomington Avenue, the crowd of pedestrians thickened near Franklin Avenue. A line of people, about a block long, wrapped around the Indian Center and down the street. As a member of the press, I’m not always averse to barging into these situations and getting a spot up front; but I decided to turn around and drive home. Fortunately, we got permission to publish a photo of Bernie Sanders from the Sunday event.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Sunday morning. Local news reports estimated the overflow crowd to hear Sanders at 3,000 to 4,000. (Photo: Jordan Iwan)

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Sunday morning. Local news reports estimated the overflow crowd to hear Sanders at 3,000 to 4,000. (Photo: Jordan Iwan)

It’s going to be a long and eventful political cycle, and the Jewish World will be providing updates on Elections 2016.

— Mordecai Specktor / editor@ajwnews.com

(American Jewish World, 6.5.15)

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