When I was a student at The Ohio State University, I couldn’t help but notice one particular building on campus: The Wexner Center for the Arts. It was new, shiny and prominent on the sprawling campus. As a self-proclaimed dork, I was curious as to how the building got its name, Wexner. Turns out a very influential alum, Leslie Wexner, was a major donor to the project. Mr. Wexner started a store in 1963 called ‘The Limited’. Today The Limited is a conglomerate that includes, among others, Victoria’s Secret. Not only is Wexner a legendary businessman but he is also among the highest donors to Mitt Romney’s super Pac, “Restore Our Future”.
Wexner has donated $250,000 to Romney. In all fairness, that’s child’s play in comparison to billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who collectively have pitched in $20 million. All in all, between the two candidates, roughly $2 billion is being thrown around on this election. Quite frankly, those who have pitched in have not done so out of their own benevolence or earnest belief in either candidate’s vision or policy proposals. The money is an investment and the investors expect a return. At no time was this clearer than after the 2008 election. Obama ran on “hope” and “change”. The only problem was that hope and change was heavily financed by the “Finance, Insurance & Real Estate” sector- to the tune of over $75 million. No other single sector contributed more in total to presidential candidates in 2008 (McCain received close to $65 million). They were rewarded handsomely.
Having mysteriously recovered from the economic crisis much faster than any other sector, today the big banks are experiencing record profits. Interestingly enough, in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis created with the help of Wall Street corruption, the Obama administration made no serious attempts to prosecute the legions of financial crimes that produced untold suffering for millions of Americans. Even to the present day, the Wall Street titans that (in large part) caused the crisis have been insulated from any responsibility for their crimes. This is in keeping with Professor Thomas Ferguson’s research on campaign finance. He argues that elections are more or less occasions in which investors strategically supply capital in order to gain influence and ultimately dictate outcomes in public policy (see his work here).
The ultimate objective is to shape public policy and gain power. The investors have no ideological convictions- the finance people gave well over $60 million to Obama and McCain each, remember? So long as policy is in their favor, the investors are equally content with an Obama or Romney White House. In all this, the losers are the population- us. Did we demand that Wall Street not be held responsible for its crimes? Did we demand that our policy preferences be of secondary importance to a few investors? Certainly not. So as we go to the polls tomorrow, we should all consider how push-up bras will enjoy their possible moment in the sun.