Sunday, October 11, 2015

Who is funding the presidential election? Hint: $100,000 does NOT get you a spot on the financial A team.

Some of us might feel pinched by a $25 donation to a political campaign. Some of us would be willing to cough up lots more, say $475. Those average out to $250. But there are 158 families in American who have used their funds in support of (mostly Republican) campaigns and their average contribution was 1,000 times our average contribution.

To paraphrase Butch Cassidy (to the Sunance Kid), who are these people?

The New York Times has a report on the relatively few, ultra-wealthy families who provide more than half the money in the presidential election - so far.

The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30, according to the most recent available Federal Election Commission filings and other data, while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election -- the vast majority of it supporting Republicans.

So who are the donors from these families?

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Of the 158 families, 138 back Republicans and 20 back Democrats.

In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are.

The wealth of these families is, from one perspective, obscene.

More than 50 members of these families have made the Forbes 400 list of the country’s top billionaires, marking a scale of wealth against which even a million-dollar political contribution can seem relatively small. The Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, for example, earns about $68.5 million a month after taxes, according to court filings made by his wife in their divorce. He has given a total of $300,000 to groups backing Republican presidential candidates. That is a huge sum on its face, yet is the equivalent of only $21.17 for a typical American household, according to Congressional Budget Office data on after-tax income.

And what effect do they want to have?

In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are.

... regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.

These folks really believe in trickle-down economics, eliminating regulations on Wall Street and environmental damage, and promoting tax breaks for the wealthy.

"The campaign finance system is now a countervailing force to the way the actual voters of the country are evolving and the policies they want," said Ruy Teixeira, a political and demographic expert at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Perhaps "tinkle on" is the better label for their economic position.

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