Open Secrets tracks donations made to political parties in the States, a difficult thing to do, particularly since Americans can give in many different ways.
Press reports on money are not reliable, as even a glance at the Open Secrets lists show, and which is all I want to prove here. One would guess, for instance, that because of Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission funds flow as from a gusher into Republican coffers. Add to that the vast wealth given by the only private individuals to be regularly mentioned in Congress, i.e. the nefarious or saintly, depending on your affiliation, Koch Brothers and you’d guess Democrats must be roving the land wearing used barrels.
Naturally, the press exaggerates. And in the direction it wishes truth to be. Is there any surprise at this?
Because it is difficult to track money, Open Secrets breaks donations down several ways. One list is the Heavy Hitters: Top All-Time Donors, 1989-2014. They purposely kept this list to the top 150—thus there is a bias leaving off smaller donors. Another notable is that the funds on this list do not include transfers to Super PACS, but only “sums sent to candidates, parties and leadership PACs.”
The leading organization is Act Blue, which gave $103 million to Democrats, none to Republicans. Number two is American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, which gave $50 million to Democrats and only about $600 thousand to Republicans. Koch Industries makes the list at number 59 only, giving $1.5 million to Democrats (presumably, given the media coverage these Democrats returned the funds), and gave $17 million to Republicans.
Some donors play both sides of the street. Goldman Sachs split $45 million, giving 53% to Democrats and 44% to Republicans, the rest going to other groups more difficult to track (see Open Secrets’ notes).
I looked at various ways of plotting this data, none of which turned out very interesting. But I did one thing Open Secrets didn’t: I summed the amounts given to both parties.
Over these years, Democrats received $1.68 BILLION, while Republicans received only $1.18 BILLION. Thus Democrats received 42% more than Republicans. Given what I had heard from the press, I thought the balance would be the opposite.
Of course, over this time, leadership has switched back and forth between the parties, and this surely accounts for the ebb and flow of monies. People like to back a winner. But that is neither here nor there for the total—which is vast. The amount of money in the system is over $3 billion with just these sources. It’s no wonder ordinary citizens feel the system is corrupt.
Top Overall Donors
Another list is the top donors for the 2012 election cycle. This ends at 100 and not 150. “The numbers combine all PAC, soft money…individual contributions made by the organization…Not included is money spent independently on issue ads or donations to political party conventions…”
The breakdowns are thus less clear. For instance, leading the list was the Las Vegas Sands, which gave $53 million, but only 2% of this could be tracked to Republicans and none to Democrats, though the money came from Sheldon Adelson who is a conservative. Another example, the National Education Association, highly liberal, gave almost $15 million, but only 14$ could be tracked to Democrats, 1% to Republicans.
Summing just the money that could be tracked shows Democrats received $103 million, Republicans $109 million, a slight edge. But this is only $212 million from a total of $601 million, so there is substantial error.
The Koch brothers are only the 80th, giving $2.7 million mostly to Republicans. They barely edged out Harvard University, which somehow we never hear about, which gave $2.6 million mostly to Democrats. Public and private unions dwarf either of these sources.
Another way to count is monies given to PACs, which is limited by Federal law, but is thus also easier to track. Here Open Secrets only lists the top 20 (also 2012). Democrats received $29 million, a 30% advantage over Republicans with $23 million.
Still another way to count is monies given by Individuals (no Koch brothers), which is somewhat difficult to track. Open Secrets lists the top 100 (also 2012). Democrats received $11 million, almost a third less than Republicans with $28 million.
There is some double counting, the Open Secrets data collection is likely imperfect, so summing the different sources is futile. But three things are clear. The amount of money in politics is enormous. The Koch Brothers are only minor players, way below the level of unions; for example, see this list. And the press cannot be trusted to tell you anything but that which they wish to believe.
Thanks to our friend Willie Soon for alerting us to these lists.