January 3, 2015 - 12:01 am
We hear it every election cycle: Fat-cat Republican donors buy elections and are singlehandedly destroying the political process. But these same critics are always noticeably silent when the numbers come out showing which donors shelled out the most cash and where their donations really went.
We can expect the same response once they learn about the tally from the just-completed midterm elections.
Among groups that are required to disclose what they raise and spend, the top 10 individual donors to outside groups gave nearly $128 million toward the 2014 elections, with Democratic-leaning groups collecting $91 million of it. More than half of the top 100 individual donors to political groups gave primarily to Democrats or their allies, and Democrat-friendly donors held the top 13 spots on the list of groups who donated more than $100,000 to allies.
Simply put, Democrats are very good at raising money — money they and their PACs actually control.
Democrats held a 3-to-1 cash advantage among the 183 groups that gave $100,000 or more to another group. Their biggest donor was the National Education Association at $22 million, and the two biggest super PACs of 2014 — Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC — both backed Democrats. Not a single Republican group even made the top 10.
Not only does the Democrat myth that Republican donors buy elections fall apart under deeper scrutiny, but so does the idea that money correlates to successful outcomes in elections, period. Donors who gave $1 million or more sent 60 cents of every dollar to left-leaning organizations, yet Democrats still got their hats handed to them at the polls.
Yes, right-leaning groups like the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity raise millions of dollars without having to abide by the same disclosure rules as overtly political groups. But voters did not throw out Democrats during the midterm elections because they saw ads from Americans for Prosperity. No, voters rejected Democrats because they doubted the competence and honesty of an unpopular president.
(Since so much ire is consistently directed at the Koch brothers, it should be pointed out that the $4.6 million they personally gave to Republicans and conservatives pales in comparison to the $74 million that billionaire hedge fund operator and Keystone XL pipeline opponent Tom Steyer singlehandedly gave to liberals and Democrats. But we digress.)
The founders took great care to protect political speech from government sanction or limitation. And money equals speech.
Maybe if politicians of both parties spent less time worrying about and raising money and more time focusing on governing and good policy — doing what we elected them to do — they wouldn’t have to raise so much money in the first place.