Amid a chaotic presidential election dominated by big money, the push to revamp the nation’s campaign finance laws got an unlikely boost at the Academy Awards.
Adam McKay, co-winner of the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Big Short,” warned of “weirdo billionaires” and special interests taking over government.
“Most of all, if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires: Stop!” McKay said Sunday night during his acceptance speech.
McKay contributed $2,700 last year to Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent whose criticism of Wall Street and big-money interests has been the hallmark of his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. “The Big Short,” which McKay also directed, is a dark comedy about subprime mortgages and the fiscal crisis of 2008.
Michael Briggs, a Sanders campaign spokesman, said in an email that McKay’s remarks represented “Bernie’s message in a nutshell.”
Wealthy individuals have transformed politics with their multimillion-dollar contributions to super PACs, which operate independently of candidates and pay for much of the campaign advertising flooding the airwaves. Super PACs have raised $371 million this election cycle so far, while major-party presidential candidates have drawn a combined $504 million into their coffers, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, private equity partner Toby Neugebauer and natural gas magnates Farris and Dan Wilks have contributed eight-figure sums to super PACs supporting GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, the Texas senator. Billionaire investor George Soros and entertainment mogul Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, are among the wealthy donors contributing to super PACs supporting Hillary Clinton.
Sanders has been able to challenge Clinton for the nomination in part because of his surprising fundraising strength.
He has taken in about 3 percent of the $93.9 million raised through Jan. 31 for the primary campaign from donors who have contributed $2,700, the maximum allowed by law from individuals, according to a Campaign Finance Institute analysis released last week. Sixty-one percent of his primary campaign money so far is from donors who contribute $200 or less, the analysis showed, and Sanders has said his average donation is about $27.
By contrast, 56 percent of the $122 million Clinton has raised so far for the primary has come from donors who have maxed out with $2,700 checks. The former secretary of State has received $22.3 million, or 18 percent of her primary campaign funds, from donors who have contributed $200 or less.
Clinton and Sanders have both promised to choose Supreme Court justices who would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped open the door to super PACs.
On the Republican side, campaign finance has not been a dominant issue in the presidential race. While GOP front-runner Donald Trump has bemoaned what he calls a “broken” campaign finance system, he has largely self-financed his campaign. Federal records show individual donors have contributed $7.4 million of the $25.5 million he’s raised so far for his campaign.
“McKay’s speech last night shows just how ingrained the impact of money-in-politics has become in our culture. Whether it’s at the Oscars, a Koch brothers joke on this season’s 'Modern Family,' or a Donald Trump stump speech — the issue is inescapable,” said Adam Smith, communications director of Every Voice, an organization that encourages small-dollar contributions and pushes for a campaign finance overhaul.
“To create change, though, we need all these people to start talking about solutions to the problem,” he said in an email.