Here we go again……another day, another way of demonstrating how income inequality is threatening our society….
Today’s installment comes courtesy of Charles Blow at the NYT (click to enlarge the chart on the right) as part of his story about a report done by the Sunlight Foundation on the political influence of the 1%. As he describes: “A tiny number of wealthy Americans are playing an ever-increasing role in financing our politics. This is not a good thing for a democracy.”
Actually, that’s a nice way of putting it. The report states:
“There are approximately 312 million people living in the United States. Yet just 26,783 (less than one in ten thousand) accounted for 24.3% of all political contributions in the 2010 election cycle.”
Oh, but it only gets better…
“In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364“
So their pocket change is the average American’s livelihood. Good to know.
But what Blow doesn’t address in his article, and which is particularly sad, though not really surprising at this point, is that the influence of this small cadre of big donors is bipartisan and co-opts (did I say “co-opts?” I meant “gives.” I apologize for the mistake) to Republicans…as well as Democrats.
In fact, while Goldman Sachs was unsurprisingly at the top of the list of corporate donors with 92 members in the big donor club, Emily’s List and ActBlue, two groups that lean heavily Democratic, combined for 245 members. As a result, the Democratic Party’s % of contributions from the big donor club has been higher than the Republican Party’s % of contributions from the same pool for every election since 1990 (except for 2010). Additionally, as the number of candidates relying on at least half of their contributions from the big donor club grew considerably beginning in 2004, Democrats led the way with 50 such candidates in 2010, compared to just 22 Republican candidates. It shouldn’t be surprising then that Democratic candidates also had significantly higher percentages of contributions coming from the big donor club, that Nancy Pelosi raised the most money from the big donor club in the House in 2010 or that John Kerry was second in big donor club fundraising in the Senate (and each had the highest share of their funding of any candidates come from this prestigious group).
Couple this with the increasing prevalence of Democratic lobbyists (where the four most important former Congressmen turned lobbyists are all Democrats representing major corporations), and the story for how the Democratic Party has lost it’s way begins to crystallize. How can Democratic legislators fight for common people when they are so dependent on such a small group of people to fund their campaigns? And save me the blah blah blah about groups like Emily’s List and ActBlue being ideologically in line with the Democratic Party. These groups are certainly important for what they are trying to accomplish and I do not want to disparage their work, but their agendas are mostly cultural, are not economic and do not address the needs of those individuals in the bottom half of the income distribution (we can say “poor” here, unlike some others…so poor folks) or minorities by and large. In case it wasn’t clear already, for the past 20+ years, anyone who has voted for a Democrat has voted for a party which has become increasingly less democratic.
So, lest one think that the answers to all of our democracy’s ills lie in limiting or eliminating corporate donations, here we have evidence for the contrary. For while that will be a useful and crucial step, the influence of a limited number of individuals to our democratic system is startling. In fact, the concentration of political power is higher than the concentration of wealth which gets so much attention. Hand, meet glove. But worse, it permeates deeply into both Republicans and Democrats. And did I tell you that our democracy is a two party duopoly?