The POTUS Puppeteer By Emily Hollander

When you add up the amount of money the Mercer family has put into political campaigns and nonprofits from 2008 to 2016, the sum is about $77 million. This is excluding “dark money,” that there may be no record of.

Individual families, like the Mercers were not always allowed to pour so much money into political campaigns. A Supreme Court ruling in 2010, the "Citizens United ruling," held that it was a violation of free speech for the government to restrict independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations.

I hold that the ruling was a costly mistake. Tremendously rich people with strong political views have the power to manipulate campaigns by pouring ghastly amounts of money into them. And isn't a government controlled by the rich an oligarchy, not a democracy?

Who is the Mercer family? Put simply, they are the wealth that propelled Trump’s campaign forward. Robert Mercer made billions, fast, once he was hired at a hedge fund (Renaissance Technologies) as a computer scientist. He had discovered a way to write programs to predict swings in the stock market, which turned out to be an extremely valuable asset.

Illustration featuring Robert Mercer by Oliver Munday for The New Yorker

Mercer indulged in some typical “what would you buy if you were a billionaire?” purchases, such as an extravagant yacht collection…. But, he and his family also used their wealth to make an impact on this country.

In 2010, the Mercer family poured $600,000 to $700,000 into the campaign of a man named Arthur Robinson, taking direct advantage of the Citizens United ruling, passed that year.

Robinson was a Republican running for Oregon’s seat in the House of Representatives. The Mercers were huge fans of his political work, as well as his work as a biochemist. His research is focused on extending the lifespan of humans through the study of urine (The Mercer’s paid for most of his refrigerators that hold his thousands of samples of human urine)-- and it is not taken quite seriously by other scientists.

In fact, Robinson seems a bit nutty. He has many unsupported theories that Mercer shares a belief in. A couple examples include the “climate change isn’t real” theory, in addition to the belief that nuclear war is survivable, and that radiation may even be good for people’s health.

The Mercer family began stepping up the spending after Robinson lost multiple elections. In 2012, they put about $3 million into Mitt Romney’s campaign. When he lost too, they turned to someone for professional help regarding the manipulation of politics. That person was Steve Bannon.

You may know Steve Bannon as President Trump’s chief political strategist and advisor. However, prior to that, he was helping set up Breitbart News, a far-right American news website, founded by Andrew Breitbart in 2007. Bannon, who was friendly with the Mercers convinced them to put $10 million into Breitbart News, which later became a large source of pro-Trump news.

Last August, when Trump’s campaign was at a low point, and Democrats were getting hopeful, Robert’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer met with Trump and told him that she’d put money into his campaign if he’d put her people in charge of it. Fearful of losing, Trump agreed and put in Steve Bannon as campaign chairman and Kellyanne Conway as manager. Rebekah Mercer herself was given a seat on the transition team, too.

Bannon’s influence has already been seen in Trump’s decisions. According to Christopher Caldwell from The New York Times, Bannon help drafted Trump’s Inaugural Address in addition to being the driving force behind the ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries that caused lots of controversy. Time Magazine stated that the number of people who showed up to JFK to protest the ban was in the thousands. Clearly, Bannon has a prime seat in the white house from which he is drastically affecting our country. And how did he get there, again?

The Mercers.

Bannon himself has said that, "When you look at the donors in the past four years, they [the Mercers] irrefutably had the biggest impact on the campaign," in an interview with Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, for her book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History Of The Billionaires Behind The Rise Of The Radical Right.” Bannon, who she described as “fascinating” and “articulate,” told her that the Mercers laid the groundwork for the “Trump revolution.”

One could argue that it is the right of all Americans to spend however much they want and whatever they want. It's what the court ruled isn't it? To not allow that would be a direct violation of their free speech.

As Trump would say: Wrong.

Let us recall what Robert Mercer made his billions off of: computer science.

This man has nothing at all to do with politics until he decided he wanted to, and now he's had an enormous impact on the controversial world of politics we live in today. Despite his theories that border insanity, he was allowed to do this.

Like Mayer says, “It'd be one thing if these views were just wacky points of view that a few people have that, you know - everybody's entitled to their own opinion. But the problem is this is someone who has tremendous influence over our country at this point.”

The Citizens United ruling has made it possible for people like Mercer, with eccentric views, to shape politics and have a greater influence than the majority of the people. There was always the aspect of money in politics, but prior to the Citizens United, limits on the amount a person could donate at a single time existed.

We need these limits to be put back in place. The current system threatens our democracy. The standards of our country are that every person should have an equal voice. Without that, our democracy is in jeopardy. We cannot continue to live in a society where the rich have all the political power… Where will the voice of our people go?

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