Surprise! White, Wealthy (Mostly Male) Elites Are Bankrolling the Campaigns

Surprise! White, Wealthy (Mostly Male) Elites Are Bankrolling the Campaigns

The American political system has been steadily shifting from democracy to, as former President Jimmy Carter calls it, an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” According to a recent big story from The New York Times, less than 130 families and their businesses account for more than half of the political contributions to Republican contenders and their super PACs.

And a new report from the Every Voice Center, a campaign-finance reform group, offers an even clearer depiction of the increasing political inequality: Many in the donor class are also neighbors. Half of the $74 million in large individual donations to ten presidential candidates have come from just 1 percent of U.S. zip codes.

(Courtesy of Every Voice Center)
 

Donors living in the posh areas along New York City’s Central Park have already given more money to presidential candidates than all 1,200 ZIP codes that are majority-black. Same goes for the 1,300 majority-Latino ZIP codes. In fact, contributions from the 1,200 majority-black ZIP codes total $1.3 million, and 19 mega-donors have each already donated more than that.

(Courtesy of Every Voice Center)
 

As Lee Fang notes at The Intercept, the elite donor class is quite white: Of the more than 50 individuals who have already given more than $1 million to the super PACs propping up the stable of candidates (excluding Bernie Sanders), only four are not white.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, when the Republican nominee’s platform—veiled as a “middle-class revival” plan—actually caters to a niche demographic of rich people.

There are some ways to fix this absurd disconnect in our political system. For instance, New York City has instituted a very successful public campaign-finance model that amplifies small donors with matching funds. Donors in the city’s 30 majority-black ZIP codes gave $2.1 million in the 2013 elections—more than those communities have given to presidential candidates in the last quarter.

The Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Finance Institute put out a fascinating study a couple years ago looking at how many more people across the city made small donations in city-council races, which had access to public-matching funds, than in state-assembly races, which didn’t.

Here’s the city’s donor distribution for state-assembly races:

(Courtesy of Brennan Center for Justice)
 

And here’s the city-council race:

(Courtesy of Brennan Center for Justice)
 

Clearly, measures like public-matching funds can expand the donor base and make candidates accountable to more people than just those who live on the Upper West Side.

This post has been updated to reflect that the Campaign Finance Institute, in addition to the Brennan Center, put out the study.