A recent story in the New York Times uncovers the disturbing reality of politics in America today. The White House is for sale and 158 families are doubling down to own it. These families have contributed nearly half the campaign money needed for Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. And they’ve done so through personal contributions or through the companies they own.
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there are 123.2 million households in the United States. The one percenters may foster outrage but consider the fact that the race for the White House is funded by an even more exclusive group–a little over one millionth of one percent. At an average of more than one million dollars in campaign donations per family for a total contribution of $176 million, they are clearly vested in a political outcome of their choice.
Let’s look at who these families are. They are uber-rich and predominantly white, although there is a representation of immigrants from Cuba, India and Israel. Almost half are on the Forbes 400 list of the country’s top billionaires. The majority live in Florida, Texas or California.
The exclusive demographic share an unexpected (and positive) attribute: most were not raised with silver spoons or a trust fund. The majority of these contributors are self-made. They used their entrepreneurial drive to build successful businesses from the ground up or hedged their bets brilliantly to play in this elite field of contributors.
But that’s where the change in today’s wealthiest elite demographic stops. Predictably, most on the list made their money in energy and finance. And the majority lean right and contributed to Republican candidates.
Their contributions mainly to Republican candidates is the key to their intentions. These private individuals are hoping to buy a White House where the opportunities to become self-made billionaires will no longer be possible. They hope to preserve their wealth and grow it by breaking a system that allows others like them to prosper, too.
They support Republican candidates that will cut entitlement programs, pare government intervention on business and cut taxes and capital gains. In their attempt to protect the wealth they have built, they turn a blind eye to the reality that if such measures were in place before their rise to success, the likelihood they’d be in such a position of power would be almost nil.
There hasn’t been such disparity in who funds and supports presidential campaigns since Lyndon Johnson. Until five years ago, campaign funding was limited and regulated. But the Supreme Court opened the campaign spending floodgates with its “Citizens United” decision, ruling that political spending is protected under the First Amendment. This meant that corporations and individuals could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities, as long as it was done independently of a party or candidate.
And that’s where the problem lies. Allowing individuals and corporations to donate as they choose to support political parties is not necessarily bad, but when such a small, unified portion of elite Americans does so, our political future is essentially sold to the highest bidder.