1% of the 1%


Here’s a statistic that should jolt you awake like black coffee with three shots of espresso dropped in: In the 2012 election cycle, 28 percent of all disclosed donations—that’s $1.68 billion—came from just 31,385 people. Think of them as the 1 percenters of the 1 percent, the elite of the elite, the wealthiest of the wealthy….

So what are we to make of the rise of the 1 percent of the 1 percent? Drutman makes a point similar to what I reported in my recent profile of Democratic kingmaker Jeffrey Katzenberg: We’re living in an era when megadonors exert control over who runs for office, who gets elected, and what politicians say and do. “And in an era of unlimited campaign contributions,” Drutman writes, “the power of the 1 percent of the 1 percent only stands to grow with each passing year.”

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  • Susan_G1

    This is sad and frightening. Putting a cap on all types of donations might help.

  • Andrew Dowling

    The conservative argument that donating money is akin to “free speech” and thus can’t be regulated is the biggest load of horse manure I’ve ever heard.

    Money= access and thus our current system by that definition actually confers a restriction of speech for those without money.

  • Phil Miller

    The donations referred to in this article are mainly donations made to so-called Super-PACs. By definition, they are not supposed to have any interaction with the campaign itself. I know the Citizen’s United decision seems to be hated a lot, but honestly, I can’t see how the government should be able to restrict what happens with political advertising paid for by people not associated with the campaigns. I do see it as fundamentally a free speech issue.

  • Andrew Dowling

    But they have clear ties with certain campaigns and have real influence in elections. Thus, the rich people who run the Super PACs and spend the most money through them have tons of influence at the policy-making level. Why should a Buffett or Koch have greater access than a mechanic or yourself to an elected politician, simply because the former can help him win elections when running even a small state election costs millions and millions of dollars? That’s not democracy, that’s oligarchy.

    I have no problem with the existence of a super PAC, but the amount one can spend on ANY type of political campaigning should be capped. If you want more money behind a certain cause, get more people behind your cause, it’s as simple as that.

  • Phil Miller

    The thing is, though, more money spent on a candidate or issue doesn’t always mean success for that candidate or issue. If the Koch brothers are so influential, they certainly didn’t have a lot of things go their way in 2012.

    Rich people will always have more access to politicians than normal people. It has always been that way, and it will always be. Honestly, I don’t see how that can easily be changed.

  • If I’m understanding that chart correctly, the party which dominated in donations still lost the election. So the donations really don’t matter all that much anyway.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Not if we had real campaign finance laws like some other countries do. It’s this kind of fatalistic attitude that has resulted in our current situation, all due respect.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Picking some scenarios when the better funded person lost doesn’t disprove money doesn’t have a significantly powerful role in our current electoral process (at the national level I’m sure there is a curve somewhere when the difference btw, for example, 10 and 15 billion really doesn’t matter, but the fact that both sides spend so much is insane to begin with), especially at the state level where name recognition counts for so much. This has been proven over and over again.

  • Phil Miller

    I’m not sure what’s so bad about our current situation…

  • Dale

    The chart refers to all federal elections in 2012. According to the Sunlight Foundation article, every winning candidate to the US House or the US Senate received money from the 1% of 1%.

  • Dale

    Actually, the chart only counted donations to political parties or to candidates. It excluded donations to super-PACS since they are technically independent.


    (see section on Partisanship, figure 8)

  • Scott Gay

    Your really not understanding this unless you know the managerial positions of this overclass. And to what extent are the 99% manipulated by the technical skill the overclass possesses. And how and why their interests requires the undermining of institutions and norms that are independent. I believe this is why Karl Barth said the issue that should be at the forefront is a theology of freedom. It is a shame that so long has passed since he said this, that if you even mention it, it sounds alien to church people.

  • Marshall

    What’s bad is that TONS of money gets spent on “getting elected” that could be used to feed the hungry, heal the sick, educate the children, or at least fix the roads. But you’re right, its just one source of waste, fraud, and abuse, probably not even a major one (except indirectly).

  • Andrew Dowling

    Corporate lobbying groups write major public policy laws that affect people, that’s not a problem? Elected representatives are supposed to have the PUBLIC interest at heart, not the interests of the few that can cash big checks . . .

  • Phil Miller

    Well, I don’t have a problem with corporate lobbying, per se. If ethical lines are being crossed, yes, I have a problem. But it goes both ways, you know. Unions have lobbyists, too.

    But on a fundamental level there are few things regarding campaign spending I’d say. First, if you had a business and you knew that politicians who have very little knowledge of what goes on with your business are potentially going to be making decisions that will have large impacts on that business, wouldn’t you try to influence them? I would. When people complain about “special interests” having too much sway, I often wonder what they’re talking about for sure. Any specific interest could be labeled a “special interest”. It just depends on what the issue is I guess.

    On the other side of things, from a politician’s perspective, incumbency is the most powerful factor in determining whether or not a politician gets re-elected or not. It dwarfs all other factors. If politicians have the ability to limit the money that can be spent in advertisements against them, this just further entrenches incumbency as being the most important thing. Of course many politicians want to limit spending in campaigns – it means they potentially face less scrutiny. I say un-cap donations, and make everything as transparent as possible. If unions or corporations want to donate to a Super-PAC, fine. Just make them reveal who they are giving money to.

    One last thing… I think that when we start talking about numbers in the millions and billions, we lose sense of the scale we’re talking. $5.8 billion or so was spent on the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Sure, that’s a huge amount of money. But compared to other governmental or industry spending in general, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s what the US military spends in 3 days! It’s what Apple brought in two weeks. So, yes, it’s a lot of money, but I don’t know if all the outrage is warranted.

  • Andrew Dowling

    -First off, why are you bringing up how much we spend on the military to campaign financing? That doesn’t make any logical sense. That’s like saying, if your coworker suddenly gets a 200% raise and you get nothing, him allaying your concern by saying “hey, the Sultan of Brunei makes 50 times what I make! Chill out!” The issue is, adjusting for inflation, the enormous spike in the cost of running a political campaign that has occurred in the last 30 years.

    – Your point about incumbency only makes sense if the challenger has significantly more money. In most cases the incumbent has more in our current system, so campaign finance reform wouldn’t change those dynamics. And incumbency is not a factor, at all, when looking at who favors campaign finance reform, so your contention that politicians want it just so they can stay in power longer is completely unfounded.

    – Unions have lobbyists . . so what? The point is no interest group should be able to sway a politician’s vote through financial means. In a democratic society, it’s supposed to be the people’s voices that are heard. If your poor strawman of a business owner can’t get his voice heard for some reason (and if he had a legitimate economic argument I doubt he wouldn’t be heard as no representative wants to be called responsible for job losses/loss of business), then maybe he should start an information campaign/petitions just like everyone else has to.