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Hedge-Fund Billionaires Invest in Politics from Two Perspectives

PHOTO: Nick Nyhart is president of Public Campaign, which supports public funding for elections. Photo courtesy Public Campaign.
PHOTO: Nick Nyhart is president of Public Campaign, which supports public funding for elections. Photo courtesy Public Campaign.
February 24, 2014

Two hedge-fund billionaires with opposite political leanings have just organized themselves and their wealthy friends to inject more than $100 million into this year's electoral campaigns.

Their efforts continue the pattern made possible by judicial rulings that have opened the floodgates to unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions, said Robert Maguire, an analyst for the Center for Responsive Politics.

"At least three of the most politically active nonprofits got more than 90 percent of their money from one or two donors," he said.

Democrat Tom Steyer's "NextGen Climate Action" Super-PAC has said it will work to defeat politicians who don't support action on climate change, while Paul Singer's "American Opportunity Alliance" will promote candidates who support his conservative business agenda.

A growing number of organizations oppose this unlimited spending and are working for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision. In that case, the court ruled that corporations are people and donations are a form of free speech that can't be regulated.

"It's only going get worse until we change the court or change the Constitution," said Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, "and in addition to that, set up a small-donor-based public financing system."

Nyhart said bills to enable people to give small contributions to candidates and have them matched 6-to-1 by public money have just been introduced into both houses of Congress. That would enable candidates to hold their own in challenges from wealthy donors such as Steyer and Singer, Nyhart said, adding that the alternative is what politics looks like now.

"We've seen tens of millions of dollars come into the race - not from thousands and tens of thousands of people, but from two people, pledging to run huge political operations."

Many Democrats are delighted that Steyer is in the game, and hope he'll be a counterweight to the fossil-fuel-funded Koch brothers, who support the candidates opposing action on climate change.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CA