Country Club Politics: How McCutcheon v. FEC Could Tee Up Elite Donors for More Influence
On October 8th, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could take a political system already centered on big money and put power even further into the hands of Wall Street bankers, billionaires, and K Street lobbyists. The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, is a challenge to the limit on the overall amount of money that a donor may contribute to federal political candidates, parties, and political action committees, often referred to as the "aggregate contribution limit." Without this "superlimit," large donors would have even more opportunity to influence government to obtain the policies they want.
Public Campaign analyzed campaign finance records and census demographic data to paint a portrait of the donors most likely to pour more money into elections if the Supreme Court strikes down the limit—those who already give at or close to the cap. These elite donors stand apart from the rest of America; they are much more likely to be wealthy, white, and male.
- These donors are a tiny, elite group. Only four in one million Americans neared or reached the aggregate contribution limit of $117,000 in 2012, 1,219 people. But one in six billionaires has a spot among these elite donors, including three of the richest five Americans: Larry Ellison, Charles Koch, and David Koch. Other names on the list include Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, K Street power lobbyists Tony Podesta and H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, and Wall Street titan Charles Schwab.
- These donors come from the wealthiest parts of America. Nearly half of the elite donors (47.6 percent) live in the richest one percent of neighborhoods, as measured by per capita income, and more than four out of every five (80.5 percent) are from the richest 10 percent.
- Wall Street dominates the ranks of elite donors. Twenty-eight percent of donors come from Wall Street and the financial sector, leading New York State to have more elite donors than 32 states combined.
- The big money system shuts out people of color and women. While more than one-in-six Americans lives in a neighborhood that is majority African-American or Hispanic, less than one-in-50 superlimit donors do. Women are also underrepresented, making up only one-quarter of the elite donors.