Why US billionaires may not be able to buy the 2016 election

Why US billionaires may not be able to buy the 2016 election

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has one; Texas Senator Ted Cruz has one; even former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, considered a longshot for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has a billionaire in his corner. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has two.

Campaign finance watchdog groups fear heavy spending by these ultra-rich Americans will warp the election - already expected to be the most money-soaked in history. The idea that billionaires can buy elections has taken root in the public imagination.

Those billionaires are now seeing small, early signs of a pushback. Whether these are the beginning of a new trend is far too soon to say, but polls show there is wider discontent about the perceived influence of big money in US politics and a growing gulf between the country's very rich and very poor.

These nascent rumblings - along with evidence that the super-rich are inefficient political spenders - raise questions about how effective billionaires will be in the 2016 elections.

Some voters in Philadelphia, for example, were turned off by the billionaires backing a top candidate in the city's May 19 mayoral race. And a Silicon Valley startup, Crowdpac, is hoping to bank on public ire against big political spenders to attract small donations to its new for-profit election campaign crowdfunding platform. "There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrell West, the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust," and the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Potential big donors dispute the notion they are trying to buy elections and say they are simply using their positions to try to influence the future of the country in a positive way. "I do believe - and I've told my kids this - that I can do more for them by giving money to the right presidential candidate in 2016 than by leaving them double that amount in my will," said David Walsh, a retired investor living in Jackson, Wyoming, who would not disclose his net worth but has given several multi-million dollar gifts to charitable causes and said he planned to donate heavily to candidates in 2016.

Miami car dealership mogul Norman Braman has been outspoken about backing his longtime protege Rubio; financial investor Foster Friess was in the audience cheering Santorum on when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago; and Bob Mercer, the founder of a New York hedge fund, has been identified as supporting Cruz. The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have publicly vowed to spend nearly $900 million influencing races in 2016.

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