By Chiraag Bains
The 2020 election is shaping up to be the most expensive in American history. Ten years after Citizens United, our elections are awash with the money of mega-donors and corporations that drown out the voices of everyday Americans — with serious consequences for racial and economic justice.
An antidote is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk, having passed the House a year ago and still not been put up for a vote in the Senate. H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would blunt the distorting influence of big money in politics. It could transform who runs for office, who wins, and what issues get prioritized in Congress.
Elections have become extravagantly costly. In 2016, campaign spending by or in support of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton totaled $2.4 billion. The average Senate winner in 2018 spent $15.7 million, with challengers needing on average $23.8 million to topple incumbents. Even local election costs can be forbidding. Spending in the Los Angeles County school board primary last month topped $6 million.
Although occasionally a candidate like Bernie Sanders has strong enough national appeal to raise the money to compete from a broad network of small donors, that’s the exception. The vast majority have to rely on a class of large donors to be viable.
Less than 1 percent of the population provides the majority of campaign funds. Indeed, just 25 people pumped over $600 million into the 2016 federal elections.
That donor class looks nothing like America. The compounding of historical racial subordination and ongoing discrimination has given us an economy in which the Forbes 400 billionaires have as much wealth as the entire Black population and a quarter of the Latino population combined. Today, the top 1 percent are more than 90 percent white; the top 10 percent are 85-90 percent white. These are the groups that dominate political giving in America.