According to OpenSecrets.org (the Center For Responsive Politics), the Democrats and the Republicans raised over $3.5 billion dollars combined for presidential and congressional races in 2016. In 2012, the two parties raised around $3.4 billion and in 2008, they raised just short of $3.2 billion. That’s over $10 billion over the last three major elections for both parties.
It’s worth it to note the industries that are being represented.
For both parties, in 2016, “Retired” is the category that gives the most to both sides of the aisle. For the Democrats, this category contributes $87M and, for the Republicans, they contributed $76M. After that, we see the Republicans getting $55M from Securities and Investment, $40M from Candidate Committees, $32M from Real Estate and $21M from Oil and Gas. The Democrats are not that dissimilar. Securities and Investments gave $55M to them, along with $40M from Lawyers and Law Firms, $31M from Real Estate and $30M from Candidate Committees. That is quite a haul for both parties. All total, with just the top five industries reported, that’s a total of about $467 million dollars. That’s almost half a billion dollars, folks.
To answer your next question, these numbers represent money from PACs, Levin money donors and individuals who gave $200 or more. These are not the Bernie Sanders $27 donors.
Now these numbers can be analyzed and cherry picked any way you want. Hell, some of it can even be excused to some degree since you can have a single contributor who identifies himself as a lawyer give a one-time $200 donation and that person will show up here. But, what you can assume with great confidence is that this is not a representation of most political donors. Most people, in fact, according to CNN Money in an article from 2015, the average median income for the US in 2014 was a little over $53K. This figure has not gone up that much in Obama’s last two years. So, the odds of most people handing over $200 of their cash to a political campaign is extremely low.
So, who are the big spenders exactly? Well, the CRP goes further and lists the top organizational donors to provide us with some clarity. The top five are Fahr, LLC ($86M to the Democrats), Renaissance ($52M split between both parties), Las Vegas Sands ($43M to Republicans), Paloma Partners ($41M to Democrats) and Adelson Drug Clinic ($38M to Republicans). Again, this is $260M from five donors to both parties and no one really knows from first blush who exactly these folks are that are investing a hell of a lot of money into our political system.
You can go ahead and research what these companies represent, but, ultimately, it’s how their money impacts policy. After Citizens United, the rules changed and money is now considered “free speech.” The CU decision was only the last case regarding “corporate personhood” which uses the 14th Amendment as its basis for allowing corporations to have the right to free speech. Of course, the 14th Amendment was actually written for the freed slaves, but nifty lawyering expanded it to non-person persons.
How this has affected American politics and legislation is felt, but not always recognized.
For example, Big Pharma has quietly killed cures while mandating that prescription drug prices cannot be negotiated by the government for Medicare recipients. The US currently charges extortionate amounts for drugs as opposed to the rest of the world and you can bet the profits are making some Big Pharma CEOs really happy. The result is that Americans in need of life-saving medications go broke while the government remains complicit in making rich people even richer.
For marijuana legalization, it’s not just about being a “gateway drug.”
Both Big Pharma and Big Tobacco have made significant efforts to stop its legalization. Even casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has invested millions to stop it. This is all despite the fact that most Americans now approve its legalization and the US has the exclusive patent for medical use.
The Fossil Fuel industry has just as done just as well, if not better.
In early 2016, Big Oil spent $10M on the Californian congress, specifically Democrats, to kill a bill that would have mandated a 50 percent decrease in gasoline by 2030. Under President George W. Bush, they were more than just a little cantankerous. They were invited to contribute to the Unites States’ energy policy with Dick Cheney. During that time, the Oil and Gas industry spent almost $400 million in lobbying the government. In return, they got $14.5 billion in tax breaks. That’s a great return on investment, I’d say.
ExxonMobil and Shell did their part to fight climate change legislation as well. As reported by EcoWatch, the fossil fuel industry has spent an estimated $500 million to defeat climate change legislation. Essentially, they are tipping the scales from renewable energy to their own product. ExxonMobil and Shell were two of five companies that spent an estimated $114 million of that total. Can it be any wonder why Republicans are against the Paris accord (remember that $21 million?)?
The influence of big money is everywhere, not just in the examples above.
There is much speculation on automakers’ and Big Oil’s influence on the release of the electric car which you can see in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006). But, from medication to climate change, to the military industrial complex to the privatization of our prison system, money’s influence, and those who have it—lots of it—have almost exclusive access to American politics through campaign financing and PACs.
Having the information presented to us, our first thought may be “What can I do about it?”
Alas, that is a decision you need to make for yourself. I can certainly recommend joining groups such as www.wolf-pac.com or www.OurRevolution.com, as well as donating to www.OpenSecrets.org to help them continue their good work, but you have to ask yourself a very important question first. The initial inquiry, the real defining moment, will be when you ask and answer the question “Do I care?” Do you care that “one person, one vote” is being diminished by people with millions, if not billions, at their disposal? While many of us struggle to pay the rent, buy groceries and pay our utilities bills, the one percent are spending inordinate amounts of capital with the sole purpose of having laws passed designed to make themselves richer.
Don’t mistake my intent here. I am not an anti-capitalist.
I absolutely believe that there need to be successful, profitable companies operating in the US to give people jobs, benefits and a purpose. I also believe that some people who have “what it takes” should be rewarded appropriately and that can result in wealth. You like the product they are selling? Buy it. Who doesn’t love a Snuggie? Make them rich. They earned it by being innovative. I’m totally okay with that. I get it. But, what I can’t condone is someone or something with wealth gaining an advantage in shaping the health and welfare of a nation that should be representing the minority equally. Simply put, corporate profits should not be achieved at the cost of the public. Martin Shkreli comes to mind when you want to recall someone who has done exactly that (who, by the way, got arrested for fraud and not his infamous 5,000 percent increase of a much needed AIDS drug.)
I also understand that some of the big money being spent is not going directly toward a particular candidate or party. Oftentimes, funds are invested into specific causes. Do you remember the Mormon Church’s “investment” in keeping same-sex marriage illegal in California? That wasn’t about profitability at all, yet money talked loudly and clearly over the common folk.
So, do you care? If so, what are you going to do about it?
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