In the market for a presidential election? Better be a billionaire.
An analysis of campaign finance data by Politico found that the top 100 donors to the presidential race have spent $195 million on their preferred candidates — that’s compared to the $155 million spent by the smallest 2 million donors. In other words, 100 rich people have more purchasing power than 2 million non-rich people combined. I would like to say that this surprising, but, well, it’s not: As The New York Times found last year, just 158 mega-donors paid for half of all early campaign donations. Besides, this is America, where a billionaire hairpiece with no political experience whatsoever leads the polls.
While these sobering figures are hardly cause for celebration, there is one silver lining: Judging from where the billionaires are putting their money, it’s not likely to get them much. The top recipient of billionaire bucks was none other than Jeb! Bush, who is doing about as well in the polls as Zoltan Istvan of the Transhumanist Party. Jeb!’s flailing campaign was the recipient of $49 million from donors on Politico’s list. Beanie Babies would have been a wiser investment.
Lest you think this is a party problem, Republicans aren’t the only ones taking money from the rich: Hillary Clinton was the second largest beneficiary of billionaire bucks. From Politico:
Meanwhile, Clinton’s super PAC allies are assiduously courting wealthy liberals as they gird for a potentially protracted fight for the Democratic nomination against the unexpectedly vigorous insurgent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has decried super PACs and has relatively little support from them. While super PACs supporting Clinton in 2015 raised $55 million ― $38 million of which came from top donors on POLITICO’s list, including $8 million from the fifth biggest donor, New York financier George Soros ― they have struggled to win support from other top Democratic donors.
And who are these billionaires trying to purchase our next president? It will probably come as no surprise that they are overwhelmingly white and male. The top donors, Dan Wilks and his brother Farris, made a fortune in hydraulic fracking, $15 million of which they donated to Ted Cruz. Cruz also took huge amounts from New York hedge fund tycoon Bob Mercer (No. 2 on Politico’s list), Texas energy man Toby Neugebauer (No. 4) and Illinois manufacturers Dick and Liz Uihlein (No. 6).
Oddly, the notorious Koch brothers were nowhere on Politico’s list. Although they reportedly plan to spend nearly $900 million on the presidential race — more than either the Republican or Democratic parties — the Kochs have yet to endorse a candidate for the primary. And should Donald Trump win the primary, that $900 million could go unspent: While the Kochs might not love any of the candidates, there is one they clearly loathe.
But for now, Jeb! Bush is clearly in the lead for mega-dollar donors. And when Bush drops out of the race, all that money will get refocused somewhere. Rubio? Cruz? Zoltan Istvan? Who knows? What is clear is that in the race for the biggest donors, there are about 300 million other Americans who will pay the price: each and every one of us.