The New York Times published an incredible story this weekend (paywall) highlighting its investigation into the 158 families (paywall) that control $176 million in political donations so far this cycle, or nearly half the amount raised in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
Politicians raise money in a number of different ways of course—it’s part of the job. Bernie Sanders has made much of the coalition of small donors that’s helping bankroll his campaign. Meanwhile, Google’s Eric Schmidt built a special startup in order to help fill Hillary Clinton’s coffers.
In contrast, the families detailed in The Times report have gone a more old-fashioned route. These are people helping out their candidates of choice—on both sides of the aisle, but leaning heavily Republican—with massive piles of money.
That much cash puts donors in rarefied company, both figuratively and geographically (several of donors are literal neighbors). So where did all the money come from? The financial sector is heavily represented, as are the energy and real estate fields.
What’s more, the newspaper reveals that the cohort is not just richer, but also far whiter than the national electorate which they are ostensibly attempting to influence. From The Times:
But interviews and a review of hundreds of public documents — voter registrations, business records, F.E.C. data and more — reveal a class apart, distant from much of America while geographically, socially and economically intermingling among themselves. Nearly all the neighborhoods where they live would fit within the city limits of New Orleans. But minorities make up less than one-fifth of those neighborhoods’ collective population, and virtually no one is black. Their residents make four and a half times the salary of the average American, and are twice as likely to be college educated.
The Times investigation is bound to further complicate the ongoing debate over campaign spending in America. National tensions have been running high ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The controversial ruling paved the way for an influx of large donations to be funneled through so-called super PACs, the high-spending campaign groups that boast big money and even bigger influence.
Indeed, an article published in the Los Angeles Times earlier this week showed just how chummy super PACs are becoming with the campaigns they fund, despite the fact that PACs are not supposed to have any intimate contact with the politicians they support.