Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, corporate funding to political campaigns, often indirect and routed through nonprofits, has been the focus of news media coverage of a democratic electoral system that grows more plutocratic each election cycle.
Yet individual mega-donors are reshaping the electoral landscape. One percent of the nation’s wealthiest one percent (0.01 percent) provided more than 25 percent of all political contributions in federal elections in 2014, according a report published by OpenSecrets.org.
The precise number of mega-donors who contributed $1.18 billion to federal elections is 31,986, roughly the population of Fairbanks, Alaska. Those 31,986 donors contributed one out of every four dollars donated to PACS, super-PACS and candidates.
According to the report, these donors are growing in number. The $1.18 billion they contributed is 29 percent of all fundraising that political committees disclosed to the Federal Election Commission in 2014. That’s a greater share of the total than in 2012 (25 percent) and in 2010 (21 percent).
Donors at the very top of the money pyramid provided the financial fuel for many of the attack ads and other messages from independent organizations that filled the airwaves.
Wall Street is overrepresented among the big givers and investment bank Goldman Sachs has more donors on the list than any other financial institution.
At $73.8 million, Tom Steyer, the progressive billionaire hedge fund manager and environmentalist, is at the top of the list. Steyer supported Democratic candidates he believed would address climate change. The second largest donor is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave $10,527,600 to Democratic/liberal candidates; $515,200 to Republican/conservative candidates; and the remainder of his $28.4 million to groups with no specific political leaning. Number three on the list is Paul Singer, the billionaire hedge fund manager whose litigation forced Argentina into bankruptcy and who also funds the right-wing Manhattan Institute. All of Singer’s $11,193,474 was donated to Republican/conservative candidates.
Every current member of Congress received money from the 1 percent of the 1 percent in 2014.
Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.
Illustrations by Kevin Kreneck
This article appears in the July 2015 issue of The Washington Spectator.