Financing Politics and Democracy: the ultimate one percent

A recent examination of political donors by the Sunlight Foundation has found some extremely disturbing numbers on how campaigns are financed. I knew it would be bad but it’s worse than I personally imagined. Nearly all political donations are made by a select few and those donors are not ordinary citizens.  There is a sliver of folks/institutions that fund campaigns and they do so with huge amounts of funds and impact.  It is difficult to imagine that democracy can survive under these circumstances.

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.

A Sunlight Foundation examination of data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics reveals a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on the One Percent of the One Percent, resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. Our examination also shows that some of the heaviest hitters in the 2010 cycle were ideological givers, suggesting that the influence of the One Percent of the One Percent on federal elections may be one of the obstacles to compromise in Washington.

The One Percent of the One Percent are not average Americans. Overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers. A good number appear to be highly ideological. They give to multiple candidates and to parties and independent issue groups. They tend to cluster in a limited number of metropolitan zip codes, especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

There is little wonder in my mind about the role of this type of campaign finance concentration in the ever-increasing march to plutocracy.  It is no wonder that most laws reflect self-dealing and monopoly protection to these same interests.  It is also why we continue to see bail outs for these folks and usound economic policy during recessions.  There is no room for common sense when policy priorities can be bought.  These folks are savvy.  Their money is going to Super PACS to represent their interests.  We know that Grover Norquist sits on an incredible amount of bucks and is accountable to no one.  We also know that his deep pockets have bought off many a republican.  He is just one example.

In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364

At the top of this elite group are individuals such as Bob Perry, CEO of Perry Homes, who gave $7.3 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads in 2010 and $4.4 million to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth in 2004, and Wayne Hughes, owner and chairman of Public Storage Inc., who gave $3.25 million to American Crossroads in 2010, and Fred Eshelman, CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development who spent $3 million in 2010 on his own group, RightChange. Sunlight’s Ryan Sibley writes more about the top donors here.

Unlike the other 99.99% of Americans who do not make these contributions, these elite donors have unique access. In a world of increasingly expensive campaigns, TheOne Percent of the One Percent effectively play the role of political gatekeepers. Prospective candidates need to be able to tap into these networks if they want to be taken seriously. And party leaders on both sides are keenly aware that more than 80% of party committee money now comes from these elite donors.

Campaign finance reform is one of those things that doesn’t get much press.  It goes no where in Congress.  Lobbyists fight it tooth and nail.  It appears the stranglehold of big, monied interests is a sure thing.  It can only lead to more social unrest since there are no traditional ways to remove it.  The Supreme Court has upheld the rights of institutions to act as individuals.  Courts have generally been the only bastion of counter measures.  This is the kind of thing that sent many tea party and Occupy participants to the streets.  Unfortunately, these statistics show that no one is listening.

19 Comments on “Financing Politics and Democracy: the ultimate one percent”

  1. Woman Voter says:

    The cartoons says it all DAK, BUT it could use a ‘Corporations Are People’ on the backside. Yup, I feel like the little people being crushed by the greed of the corporations, who have unregistered lobbyists running for president and calling poor children names.

    Why we Occupy, we can’t buy politicians, nor buy ad space, nor pay $$$ to lobbying firms or Newts who claim they are teaching history, nor buy campaigns, nor block honest candidates and so we Occupy to get our message out.

    • ralphb says:

      Yep. Thank goodness Rick Perry is too dumb to breathe on his own because Bob Perry is his biggest donor and Perry is the ultimate sellout. That’s the only reason I was afraid he would do well and he still might make some miracle comeback.

      • Woman Voter says:

        How Much Love Will Leadership PAC Contributions Buy in GOP Presidential Race?
        Three weeks out from the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, 51 sitting members of Congress have endorsed GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney — 45 of whom received campaign donations from Romney in earlier years, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.

        Collectively, these lawmakers have received $163,620 from Romney’s leadership PACs since the 2004 election — or about $3,636 per person, the Center’s research shows.

        Read more:

      • Woman Voter says:

        Rick Perry is scary, considering what his Texas did to the protestors at Occupy Houston yesterday :

        Note that RED Tents are used for hazard material cleanups…so what happened under that tent? What is next seccret tent camps for dissent? Scary…

      • ralphb says:

        What’s going on at Occupy Houston is depressing mainly because the Mayor is an openly gay woman Democrat. Not sure what to make of that.

        • dakinikat says:

          Probably pressure from the business community and law enforcement. That is what’s happening here. I knew the minute we had a major tourist even–like a bowl game or mardi gras–that our mayor who even went down there and was all smiles for a while would eventually herd them up and move them out. THe occupy people here are actually watching over about 50 homeless people too. They have to clean up after them and feed them so NOLA hates that when there’s tourists around. The always round the homeless people up and hide them during tourist times.

  2. foxyladi14 says:

    great post Dak. 🙂

  3. peggysue22 says:

    I concur with Foxy Lady, Dak. Excellent. This point cannot be pounded frequently enough–money is swamping the electoral and legislative process. Citizens United made the bad even worse. Even when a light is briefly beamed on a single problem–insider trading, for instance–we have weasels like Eric Cantor blocking a ban because he says ‘it needs more study.’


    None of this will turn around until we get the money out. Bernie Sanders is supporting an amendment to turn back the corporate personhood business. Dylan Ratigan and his group is sponsoring an amendment to forbid US legislators in accepting outside election funding as well as stopping the revolving door of legislators to lobbyists to legislators that has become normal procedure. The Eye of the Newt is a perfect example.

    We can’t expect or hope Congress to pass the necessary legislation because they’re the foxes guarding the chicken coop. And the vast majority appear to be ravenous. Without some sort of relief, we’re going to see more and more street action, which is likely to turn violent. You can only push a population so far before the pot boils over.

    • dakinikat says:

      The problem is that each state has its own laws for incorporation and the worst of them head for the states with the lowest bar. Since this is really a matter of interstate commerce these days, they need to write a national law that recognizes the corporation as a legal entity but with certain characteristics that don’t confuse it with a person.

      I think a lot of the finance/accounting malfeasance comes from the fact that the corporation “commits” the crime in terms of what the law sees. No one else gets held accountable. Also, why are individual campaign contributions limited by not organizational? I’m not a lawyer but I think that limited partnerships and other forms of ownership have clauses in them that make owners/management more accountable for what they do in the name of a company. Certainly, there should be reasonable limits on the behavior of some thing you can’t put in jail and can only fine or drive into bankruptcy but the owner/agents can live on to do damage elsewhere.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I had no idea that political contributions were that concentrated among such a small number of people. No wonder politicians don’t listen to the people. No wonder Obama didn’t want to stand up to Wall Street. Even his few mealy-mouthed complaints about them have been met with shock and anger. These are the oligharchs, I guess.

  5. Note that are current campaign finance situation is after numerous laws and regulations have been passed with the goal of cleaning up the system. Of course this is what happens when those to be regulated make the regulations. 😉 We have a labyrinth in which the common citizen can barely hope to seek office without becoming a criminal while the clever rule. In this way, we have maximum protection for the establishment.

    • dakinikat says:

      That’s what’s so maddeningly frustrating. The last attempts were awful and they really didn’t do anything that positive. That’s what the sausage making does to a simple idea.

  6. Excellent but maddening post. Makes me want to move to Fraggle Rock.

  7. Outis says:

    This is so horrifying, but I must say this is one of the reasons I did not support Obama. When he turned his back on his pledge of public financing and turned the presidential election into a FIRE sale of $1 billion dollars–and so-called progressives CHEERED–it only confirmed what he was.

  8. ralphb says:

    Paul closes in on Gingrich

    There has been some major movement in the Republican Presidential race in Iowa over the last week, with what was a 9 point lead for Newt Gingrich now all the way down to a single point. Gingrich is at 22% to 21% for Paul with Mitt Romney at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%, Rick Santorum at 8%, Jon Huntsman at 5%, and Gary Johnson at 1%.

    This is interesting mainly because Ron Paul doesn’t seem to have big money backing.

    • quixote says:

      Who the hell is Gary Johnson??

      I’m getting a real chuckle out of the RonPaul news. I’d love it if he won the caucus. One whole contingent of Republicans would turn into pretzels, trying to wrap their heads around that one. Bwahahaha.

      • ralphb says:

        Gary Johnson is the former governor of New Mexico, who is actually a Libertarian. I’ll bet he tries a 3rd party run of some kind.