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Big money and big egos equally problematic

Presidential candidates spent a combined $2,495,740,931 in the 2016 race to the White House, according to OpenSecrets.org, a non-partisan, independent, non-profit research group that tracks money spent in U.S. politics.

It sounds like a ridiculous amount of money, but incredibly, that’s not the highest amount ever. Even when adjusted for inflation, 2016 presidential race spending totals come in third highest, behind the $2,799,728,146 spent in 2008 races, and the $2,621,415,792 spent in 2012.

In the 2016 race, President Donald Trump spent $66 million of his own money, Fortune magazine reported at the time, shortly after federal campaign finance disclosure records were released for that election.

Still, money apparently isn’t everything.

Trump was significantly outspent by his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Fortune reported at the time that in total, he had raised $339 million and spent $322 million — a far cry from the $565 million spent by Clinton. Trump spent $94 million in the final days of the campaign, compared with the $132 million spent by Clinton.

As next year’s election approaches, voters will see another self-funded billionaire candidate.

Just weeks after entering the Democratic presidential primary, the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is digging into his own pocket to hire hundreds of people to work on his campaign, according to Politico magazine.

Facing backlash from his Democratic opponents on his self-funding plan, Bloomberg last week defended himself.

“And how much of their own money do they put into their campaigns?” Bloomberg asked in a CBS interview. “I’m doing exactly the same thing they’re doing, except that I am using my own money. They’re using somebody else’s money, and those other people expect something from them. Nobody gives you money if they don’t expect something. And I don’t want to be bought.”

During his first campaign Trump had promised to run a shoestring campaign and also argued that his self-funding model meant he would not be obligated to any special interests.

That may be true, but I fear both candidates also believe their money makes them above accountability to anyone in the media who is asking questions on behalf of the constituents.

Remember when Trump promised to “open up our libel laws,” making it easier to sue the media and “win lots of money”?

Bloomberg has not made such threats — yet — but he has put people in his company on notice that he can control what they write.

I read with interest an Associated Press wire story we published last week in which Bloomberg — who operates Bloomberg News — said employees at his news organization may not do any investigative reporting about him or his campaign.

In fact, he says his organization’s reporters are not allowed to probe him and his finances, or any of his Democratic rivals.

Bloomberg’s restriction, of course, does not apply to Donald Trump, since he’s already an elected official.

Doesn’t make me feel too comfortable that, if elected, he will be very transparent, open or forthcoming with information that the public should have a right to know.

The Associated Press sought comments about Bloomberg’s rule from a Syracuse University journalism professor who said surely the rule “puts the journalists in an extremely uncomfortable, tenuous position.”

Ya think?

It’s troubling to think that people who want to represent our nation as an elected official in any capacity also think they may share with the media and constituents only what they choose.

Call me crazy, but isn’t it suspiciously coincidental that two very vocal candidates on this topic are the extremely wealthy self-funders?

It’s frustrating for journalists who truly operate with the goal of informing the public with accurate, fair and balanced reporting.

Considering the billions that have been spent in previous elections, it’s hard for me to believe that big money isn’t looking to have influence in big elections.

But as we are seeing, big wallets with egos can be just as problematic.

blinert@tribtoday.com