The venture capitalist Tom Perkins recently suggested that he should have a greater voice than others in selecting our government because he’s rich. “You pay a million dollars in taxes,” he told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, “you get a million votes. How’s that?”
Perkins later insisted that he had intended to be outrageous. As most Americans understand politics, however, he was just stating the obvious.
Instead of extra votes on Election Day, we who are wealthy enough to give money to politicians get special access before, and influence after, as candidates pursue the cash that is the life’s blood of their election campaigns. The more you give, the more access and influence you have. It’s as simple as that.
Our leaders’ supplication to donors is not new. But in the age of Super PACs the effect has become far more pronounced — even as the post-Watergate limits on campaign contributions look increasingly irrelevant.
There is a Super PAC for almost every candidate and cause — including one that I helped create, with the ironic mission of decreasing the influence of money in politics. But it would be a mistake to call this diversity. Our democracy is meant to be more than a disagreement among rich people.