Remember when so-called progressives railed against the outsized influence of billionaire-funded super PACs in elections? Remember when those same progressives reviled Citizens United as if that decision was handed down not by the US Supreme Court but by Lucifer himself? How about when they lauded campaign finance reform and contribution restrictions? Or when they hailed the importance of campaigns funded by numerous small donors over the few wealthy big donors, epitomized by US Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential run?
That was then. Today, Philly progressives have decided that the District Attorney’s Office is for sale – and they like it.
It was just last year when progressives in the city swooned over Sanders as he barnstormed across the country declaring, “In the United States, billionaires should not be able to buy elections.” He warned his supporters and anyone else who would listen that there was a “rapid movement in this country toward a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected.”
In 2017, the Democratic primary for Philadelphia DA is Exhibit A for Sanders’ argument. It has been reported that billionaire George Soros has dumped $1.45 million into a super PAC supporting Larry Krasner’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. For those who are not concerned about this, it is important to remember how we got here.
District Attorney Seth Williams is not seeking re-election because he stands accused of doing favors for donors who have showered him with expensive gifts and trips. In this election, we need to make a statement loud and clear that Philly’s top law enforcement agency is not for sale. Super PACs, the most recent, most effective version of pay-to-play, diminish the value of numerous small contributions from ordinary voters – in this case, those who have shown their support for their preferred DA candidates at a fraction of the rate Soros’ super PAC has.
The single greatest fear of any candidate is that one to two weeks before an election, some billionaire’s super PAC will drop $1 million against him. When that happens, there’s little he can do. He can’t turn to his largest contributors because, by law, they have already maxed out.
If we allow an outside billionaire to buy this election, then, at an institutional level, our District Attorney’s Office will be corrupt. But so-called progressives lose credibility when they rail against big money and big donors influencing elections, yet stand on the sidelines with pom-poms for a billionaire doing just that – just for their preferred candidate in this election. I can’t help but think there is something inherently unethical and wrong about using a corrupted system to supposedly combat corruption. It surpasses the point of irony and becomes downright hypocritical.
It was just 10 years ago when young Philadelphia progressives were celebrating the passage of new campaign contribution limits in Philadelphia City Council. One of those celebrants, a blogger on YoungPhillyPolitics.com, wrote: “The Supreme Court ruled that the City’s embattled (and celebrated?) campaign finance legislation is legal under the PA Constitution. With the defeat of the Fattah-Dougherty challenge, we no longer have to worry about whether we will have unregulated money back in our elections.” That same person now supports a candidate whose campaign is being propelled by methods that have been the scourge of progressives since Citizens United was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010. So I ask the question: Is Philly’s District Attorney’s Office for sale? Or have progressives lost their damn minds?
Otis L. Bullock, Jr. is an attorney and Executive Director of Diversified Community Services. He is a member of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and worked for City Council and Mayor Nutter. Otis lives in Strawberry Mansion with his wife State Rep. Donna Bullock and two children. He supports and volunteers for Rich Negrín for District Attorney.