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Political Contributions from Financial Sector Increased 700% Since 1990


January 26, 2012

Contact: Liz Bartolomeo 202-742-1520 x226

WASHINGTON, DC – A new analysis prepared by the Sunlight Foundation shows that wealthy financial sector donors gave $178.2 million in political contributions in 2010, more than ten times what they gave 20 years ago. More than any other industry, individuals from the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector, particularly those in securities and investments, are the key drivers of the overall growth of elite donors, or what Sunlight calls The Political One Percent of the One Percent.

An analysis of campaign contribution records by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that the number of donors in the FIRE sector giving at least $10,000 (in 2010 dollars) per election cycle to political candidates, parties and independent expenditure groups increased from 1,091 in 1990 to 5,510 in 2010 (a 405% increase). Combined contributions of these elite donors increased even more dramatically, growing by $162.8 million (a 700% increase, controlling for inflation).

1,091 - FIRE donors (giving at least $10K)
$15.4 million in total contributions

5,510 - FIRE donors (giving at least $10K)
$178.2 million in total contributions

“Though it’s very difficult to directly measure the influence that finance and other elite donors are having, it seems fair to say that, to the extent that candidates and parties are eager to court these donors, they will want to keep them relatively happy, since they know that without the support of these donors, raising the money needed to compete electorally is more difficult,” writes Sunlight Data Fellow Lee Drutman, who authored the analysis.

In accompanying interactive graphics available on the Sunlight blog, the growing gap between FIRE sector giving and other industries is easily charted. The blog post also includes a breakdown of how FIRE sector money went each cycle to candidates, party committees and independent expenditure groups.

Overall, contributions made by elite FIRE sector donors are consistently bipartisan, going to candidates and committees from both parties, though slightly favoring Republicans in most years. In 2010, the FIRE sector gave 54 percent of its candidate/party money to Republicans, while in 2008, 51 percent of the money went to Democrats.

Last month, Sunlight released an analysis of campaign contributions from the 2010 cycle, which illustrated a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on this "One Percent of the One Percent," resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. Sunlight's examination also showed that some of the heaviest hitters in the 2010 cycle were ideological givers, suggesting that the influence of the One Percent of the One Percent on federal elections may be one of the obstacles to compromise in Washington.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. Visit to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including and