Center for Public Integrity: What does it mean for the country when politicians are raising so much money from wealthy supporters rather than the grassroots?
Trippi: It’s a bad trend for the country.
Center for Public Integrity: What makes it a bad trend?
Trippi: All the things that turn people off and make them step back and throw their hands up are just spurred on by super PACs and big money. Democracy should be about the more people participating, the better.
Center for Public Integrity: What would you do instead?
Trippi: If you banned everything but $100 contributions to a candidate, I think we’d have a much stronger democracy. That’s what I would do. Unfortunately, with freedom of speech, you can’t.
Center for Public Integrity: Why do you like that idea?
Trippi: If you’ve got to put a bunch of $100 contributions together, candidates would be talking to a lot more people and having a lot less dinners with billionaires and millionaires. And only the ones who could connect to do that would be getting anywhere.
Center for Public Integrity: In the era of super PACs, what role do small-dollar donors play for campaigns?
Trippi: Look, all the established, front-runner, been-around-forever people have no problem in the current super PAC/let’s-go-speed-date-billionaires game that’s going on. But for anybody who is out there and is at zero and no one knows their name, it’s the only way to have any chance. Whatever chance we had in 2004 was because of that.
Center for Public Integrity: What stars have to align for a candidate to harness a big small-dollar donor network?
Trippi: You’ve got to have a message that is going to connect to a lot of people. You’re not trying to find one billionaire to fund you. You’re trying to find millions of people.
Center for Public Integrity: Why does the establishment like super PACs?
Trippi: None of these candidates want to go out and have to get 10 million people to give them $100. It’s easier to get one billionaire to write a $100 million check. That’s why these super PACs are important.
Center for Public Integrity: Where do you think this is all heading?
Trippi: The system we have cannot stand. All the billionaires out there should start doing some math. We’re a country of, like, 330 million people. There’s going to be a day when 20 million people connect with a candidate — and totally change America’s politics.
Center for Public Integrity: What was it like raising money from small-dollar donors in 1984 when you worked for Democrat Walter Mondale’s campaign?
Trippi: Because there was nothing called the Internet, people had to write these things called checks, stick them in these things called envelopes, lick these things called stamps, put them on the envelopes and mail them, which took days. And then the banks would put one-week holds on all the out-of-state checks. Candidates would not be able to access all that money for weeks.
Center for Public Integrity: And now?
Trippi: Now, candidates can raise millions of dollars — literally millions — within hours online.