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What Eduardo Porter gets wrong about corporate money and the GOP

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If there is a “reluctance of corporations to spend on politics,” somebody forgot to tell the corporations. As far as I can tell, corporations are still spending ridiculous sums here in Washington. This surprising assertion comes from the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter, who wrote an article in today’s paper trying to puzzle through what would be a provocative question if the premise were true: “How did corporate America lose control of the Republican Party?” Porter’s thesis seems to be that corporations should have spent more money to shape the make-up of the Republican Party in Congress. If they had, they’d be better poised to get some action on immigration reform and infrastructure improvement. “Corporations’ reluctance to open their checkbooks,” Porter writes, “suggests an intriguing alternative explanation for the rise of Republicans who are willing to defy their will.” Let’s set a few things straight.

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Are the 1% of the 1% pulling politics in a conservative direction?

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1% of the 1% logo

In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

 
The more conservative the Republican, the more dependent that Republican is likely to be on the nation's biggest individual donors, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of campaign finance data finds. By "biggest individual donors," we are referring to a group we named “the 1% of the 1%” after the share of the U.S. population that they represent. These wealthy donors may be pulling Republicans to the political right, acting as a force for a more polarized Congress. The polarizing effect for Democrats, meanwhile, is unclear. If anything, more liberal Democrats depend a little less on 1% of the 1% donors than conservative Democrats. As we explored in our big-picture look at the 1% of the 1%, the biggest donors in American politics tend to give big sums of money because they want one party to win. Approximately 85 percent of the top individual donors in U.S. politics contributed at least 90 percent of their money to one party or the other. By contrast, less than four percent of these donors spread their money roughly equally between the two parties (a 60-40 split or less).
Figure 1.
the one percent of the one percent and partisanship The above figure treats all Democrats and Republicans as equivalent. In reality, both parties contain some moderates and some extremists. Some -- Ezra Klein, most prominently -- have argued that while small money exerts a polarizing tug on the parties, big money is consensus-oriented and centralizing. At the time, I responded that if big money was consensus-oriented, it was doing a terrible job of building consensus. I went further to hypothesize that big money might also be polarizing. Turns out I was more right than I knew then.

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The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012

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Graphics by Amy Cesal and Ben Chartoff


 

1% of the 1% logo

In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

 
More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population. In the first presidential election cycle since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, candidates got more money from a smaller percentage of the population than any year for which we have data, a new analysis of 2012 campaign finance giving by the Sunlight Foundation shows. These donors contributed 28.1 percent of all individual contributions in the 2012 cycle, a record high. One sign of the reach of this elite “1% of the 1%”: Not a single member of the House or Senate elected last year won without financial assistance from this group. Money from the nation’s 31,385 biggest givers found its way into the coffers of every successful congressional candidate. And 84 percent of those elected in 2012 took more money from these 1% of the 1% donors than they did from all of their small donors (individuals who gave $200 or less) combined. This elite 1% of the 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reached new small donor frontiers (small donors are defined as individuals giving in increments of less than $200). In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase. The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans. They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States. Watch a video summary of The Political 1% of the 1%

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Republicans Demand Campaign Cash for Votes

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It looks like congressional Republicans have seen MAPLight.org - the insanely useful money-for-votes tracker - and they like the idea. (Also see: National Association of Home Builders.) That idea being that money equals votes and votes equal money and therefore interests that they vote in favor of should kick back some campaign cash to reward their votes:

With the House Democrats’ refusal to grant retroactive immunity to phone companies — stalling the rewrite of the warrantless wiretapping program — GOP leadership aides are grumbling that their party isn’t getting more political money from the telecommunications industry.

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Worry Warts:

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Roll Call is reporting that House Republicans are "growing uneasy with the increasingly aggressive tactics being employed by the Justice Department in its burgeoning corruption probe of Congress". Some believe that the Justice Department has "gone too far in their techniques" and that prosecutors are trying to "get" a Congressman. Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) replacement as House Administration Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) voiced these concerns, "A number of Members are very concerned about the way the Justice Department is investigating." Noel Hillman, the former lead prosecutor at Justice's Public Integrity Unit, stated that he did pursue more aggressive means than previous prosecutors stating that he led a "more aggressive [approach] in the ways we investigate the cases: the more effective use of cooperators, the more effective use of undercover techniques, the consensual recordings." One example cited by Congressmen upset over the aggressive techniques is the searching of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) car while it was on Congressional grounds. Buried within the article is a simple statement by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) that explains the problems that many Americans have with Congress nowadays.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and former California attorney general, said he was growing concerned that some prosecutors and the media were viewing the simple act of accepting campaign contributions from donors with similar legislative agendas as a criminal act. With Members “put into a situation” in which they need to constantly raise money, Lungren noted that each party has found natural bases of donors who support each other’s agendas. But that, he said, doesn’t add up to the criminal level of a “fairly delineated quid pro quo.”
The need to constantly raise money puts Congressmen in situations where it oftens seems that they are being bribed, whether they are or not. What Lungren implies, although he would certainly disagree with the way that I read the implications, is that the problem lies in what is actually legal - the honest graft.

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