Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fewer than 160 families account for nearly 50% of all 2016 campaign financing.

The Most Expensive Street in America
Thanks to Citizens United, wealth can buy more power than it used to. Just a few people, mostly from financial and energy sectors, are providing most of the funds for the 2016 presidential election candidates. Most of the money is going to Republicans. These large donations are especially alarming considering the growing closeness between super PACs (political action committees) and candidates, relationships that are technically unlawful according to the FEC (Federal Elections Commission).

The donors represent just a handful a geographic areas, mostly big cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Houston, and their influence has the potential to shift political party politics, for good or for bad, and that's definitely something we should watch out for.

It's easy to get angry at these elite donors for having a larger say than you or me, but let's consider their point of view for a second. Most of them are self-made (new money). If I was able to accumulate that much wealth, I might want to spend some of it on political campaigns, and I don't think I would feel that bad about doing so.

I'm not sure we can really blame people for donating to causes they are passionate about, but what do you guys think? What measures could we take to help equalize the amount of influence everyone has in the political process? Is equalizing influence the right thing to do?

LA Times


Jeffrey Song said...

Thank you for sharing this information Josh.

It's definitely shocking how much the state of campaign financing has become privatized. I agree with most of your points; however, when you say that people of new money have the justification to spend their overwhelming amount of money on political campaigns because they are self-made, I disagree. The fact that they are new money would provide even more of an incentive for them to use the presidential campaign/election as an opportunity for business/personal gain rather than supporting the candidates themselves for their political ideals or beliefs.

Certainly, these people have the right to donate to causes they are passionate about, but how many of these donors and financial backers are really donating because they are passionate about the candidate and his beliefs? I'm playing the devils advocate and I'm sure not all of the backers have such motives behind their actions, but it would definitely be quite a big problem if true. There would be a grossly disproportionate amount of influence in the hands of those with money whom don't want what would necessarily be best for the nation as a whole but rather for their individual businesses and assets.

What do you think?

Maggie Yeung said...

I definitely see the point Jeffrey is making, but I agree with Josh in that those elite donors aren't to blame for this disproportionate influence in politics. Yes it's unfair, but all donors have the right to be vocal about their opinions and if they have an ability to, there isn't a problem with them exercising that right. That being said, I think the problem lies in the fact that they have the ability to exploit their financial power. It's overly idealistic and very unrealistic to try to give everyone a completely equal say, so I think the most realistic solution would just be to try to increase the participation of "regular" people rather than reducing the influence of these elite donors.

Emily Shen said...

Imagine someone — an ordinary, middle-class American citizen — seeing this news item and being so upset that s/he decides to give up on politics altogether. Is it hypocritical that they judge others for their influence when they have decided not to even try to counter it? Or is it understandable that they know they're participating in a game they'll never win?
If everyone who could vote voted, do you think that all of it would be enough to overcome the powerful elite? And if not, is there still a point to participating in politics even knowing your voice doesn't matter?

Abhishek Paramasivan said...

I see the point that Jeffery is making, I do agree that one of the reason politics can be so stagnant is that politicians are backed by rich CEOs who will stand to gain by having certain legislation passed or rejected. However, I disagree with Josh on the fact that they have a right to have more political influence in government while being a regular citizen. If one believes in the basis of equality in representative democracy, then essentially paying to have more say inherently goes against democracy because it disproportionately favors the wealthy. As stated before wealthy citizens do have a right to donate to support who they want during election, but on matters of passing bills and on issues that get lobbied is where the real advantage comes to those with large amounts of wealth. I believe that banning lobbying during the law making process would be the best way to actually increase equality in influence among citizens.

Horace He said...

I disagree with what Josh and Maggie said about campaign financing. It's important to note that this financing is not given under "normal" means. Certainly, it was not the intent of the founders that those with wealth could donate this much money to the political candidates they support. There's a reason that individuals and organizations are capped on how much money they can donate to an individual's campaign. If you restricted yourself to donating money to organizations officially headed by a candidate, you wouldn't be able to donate millions or billions of dollars.

It was never the intention of the founders, nor do I see how anybody can justify, to have those with more wealth have more influence in the political system. Sure donors do have their right to express their opinion, but it should be through normal means. There's a reason campaign spending limits were put in place. The emergence of Super-PACs are the only reason individuals can spend so much money.

As for Emily's point, I don't think it's hypocritical to give up on the system. Even if say, the bottom 90% of all families contributed all their wealth to political campaigns, they would barely be able to match the top 0.1% of America's wealth. Of course, this isn't even accounting for the fact that poor Americans hardly have the wealth to spare to contribute to a political campaign.

As for Josh's claim that most of them are "new money", I'm not completely sure where he got that from. 21% of the Forbes 400 inherited another wealth to get them onto the Forbes 400 from that. Another 7 percent inherited 50 million or equivalent in a "large or prosperous company". Another 12 percent inherited at least a million bucks or a decent sized business from a relative, and another 22 percent received sizable inheritances under 1 million. Of course, this doesn't account for the substantial advantages one receives from being able to go to a private middle school, or having substantial connections as a result of your parents. I don't think it's completely accurate to call them completely self made.

When the top few in a country have so much influence, it endangers democracy. Wealth should not control how much say you have in a country.