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The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012

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Graphics by Amy Cesal and Ben Chartoff


 

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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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How to make sense of immigration lobbying

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The real immigration fight is now about to begin. As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins working on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, we still think the best field guide to the fight about to erupt over the 844-page bill remains our March 25 analysis, entitled “Untangling the webs of immigration lobbying" Here is the network analysis we produced back then (click for the interactive version): Figure 1. Immigration Lobbying in Congress Click for interactive version Click here for our interactive network guide to the most active interests, what issues they care about, and how intensely they are lobbying

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Untangling the webs of tax lobbying

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It’s tax day today, and while Americans all over the country are scrambling to pay what they owe, in Washington there is a different kind of hustle taking place. About 6,500 lobbyists are busily working to make sure that their more than 2,000 client organizations can pay a little less in taxes. Some want a new tax credit passed. In this year that threatened comprehensive tax reform, many are focused on protecting existing loopholes, credits, and exemptions. To understand the vast and busy world of Washington tax lobbying, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis and visualization has mapped out the networks of tax lobbying from the 112th Congress (2011-2012), which should also be a pretty good guide to what lobbying in the 113th Congress will look like. Our interactive component lets you follow the industries and issues that you care most about. Click for Interactive Graphic by Alexander Furnas and Amy Cesal. Click to explore the network interactively. The visualization draws on the complete record of tax lobbying in the 112th Congress. For those keeping score at home, that covers:

  • $773 million in reported lobbying spending
  • 1,454 bills
  • 2,221 organizations

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Research Tool Kit: Gun Laws, Lobbying and Influence in the United States

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With the U.S. Senate expected to take up gun legislation next week and recent passing of gun laws in Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland, we put together a tool kit on the issues around gun rights and gun control. For more information, you can follow the money, influence and news on the issue of gun control and gun rights in the U.S. at our resource page. Keep reading for information about state legislation, swing votes in the Senate, political spending by gun rights and gun control groups, details on how they lobby Congress and where they are airing TV issue ads.

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Untangling the webs of immigration lobbying

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As Congress inches toward major immigration legislation, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis (based on almost 8,000 lobbying reports) offers a comprehensive and interactive guide to the web of interests with something at stake. As legislation continues to take shape, a wide range of sectors will continue flooding Congress with their lobbyists, trying to make sure that their particular concerns are fully addressed. The visualizations we present can help to better understand who these interests are, what they care about, and how intensely they are likely to lobby to get what they want. Click for interactive version

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Top government contractors spend less than a penny on politics for every dollar at stake in sequester

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With the sequestration deadline rapidly approaching, one set of companies has more at stake than any other, at least in terms of sheer dollars: big government contractors. By our count, the ten biggest government contractors would stand to lose roughly $13.6 billion in contracts if the across-the-board 9.4 percent cuts to discretionary defense spending cuts were applied equally across their 2012 contract award amounts. Compare that to the $115 million they spent on lobbying and campaigns, and that investment in politics starts to look like a bargain. And if that political investment helps to avoid the proposed cuts and keep these companies' contracting revenues stable, that would amount to a 125-to-1 return for these 10 companies, on average.

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How Much Did Money Really Matter in 2012?

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One of the emerging post-campaign narratives is that all the outside money (more than $1.3 billion) that poured into the 2012 election didn’t buy much in the way of victories. And as we dig through the results in detail (our extensive data visualizations and analysis are below), the story holds up: we can find no statistically observable relationship between the outside spending and the likelihood of victory. Looking closely at the data helps to clarify and explore this emerging narrative in numerous ways. It also helps us to see some other smaller effects of money. It appears that candidate spending may have mattered a bit more than outside spending, especially for Democrats. It also appears that outside spending may have contributed slightly to the vote share, though not to the probability of victory. This post is based on House results, both because looking at the House gives us a larger sample size, and because there’s more of a likelihood that money could make a difference in House races, given the smaller size of House seats (compared to the Senate), the recent redistricting and the fact that we’ve had three House elections in a row with high turnover. (We’ll come back to the Senate soon, we promise) First an overview. As of September 6, two months before the election, the Cook Political Report listed 90 House seats as either likely for one party, lean for one party, or toss-ups. These were the seats where money could make a difference if it were to make one. (Before we proceed, a few caveats: 1. The candidate spending totals are through October 17; and 2. For purposes of the analysis we include outcomes still pending final approval.) Outside spending on these 90 seats was just over a quarter of a billion: $250,656,656, and candidate spending was just short of $300 million: $297,947,7717. In the 25 toss-up races, candidates spent $100,164,189; outside groups spent $140,043,821.

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Latest Dark Money Tallies: $213 million in the general election and counting, 81% on behalf of Republicans; 34 races with $1 million or more

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Back in July, Senate Republicans successfully blocked the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required all organizations spending $10,000 or more to reveal their donors. Now we understand why. Though Nov.1, $213.0 million has been spent by “dark money” groups to influence the 2012 elections. Of that, $172.4 million (81%) has been spent to help Republican candidates, as compared to $35.7 million (19%) to help Democrats. (By “dark money” we mean groups that do not disclose their donors and only are required to disclose their congressional race spending within 60 days of House and Senate elections and their presidential race spending following the national party conventions).

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