The GOP is the party of the rich, or so goes the conventional wisdom since the days of FDR.
Many Republicans, said Democratic-party chairman Howard Dean recently, “have never made an honest living in their lives.” Democratic activists have even set up a satirical website. And a liberal tax-exempt 527 group with the same name gets checks from anti-Bush billionaires such as Herb Sandler of Golden West Financial.
The GOP has historically been the party of both Main Street and Wall Street. But over the past decade, the plutocrats have increasingly become Democrats. Billionaires for Bush are increasingly outnumbered by billionaires who hate Bush. And Republicans in limousines are being outpaced by Democrats in Lear Jets.
With soft-money contributions banned, the super rich can now hope to sway elections with large checks to 527 advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org, Americans Coming Together, and the Media Fund, and by bundling contributions to candidates. Over the last four elections, the Democrats have dominated on both accounts. Consider these numbers, from the nonpartisan, non-profit Center for Responsive Politics (CRP):
Thus far in 2006, 17 of the top 25 contributors to 527 advocacy groups are funding liberal/Democratic causes, including liberal billionaires George Soros, and Peter Lewis.
In 2004, Democrats made up 15 of the 25 individuals who gave more than $2 million to 527 groups. Of the Senate and House candidates who received “bundled” contributions that year, 9 out of the top 10 in the Senate and 8 out of 10 in the House were Democrats.
In 2002, those who gave a million dollars or more gave $36 million to the Democrats and only $3 million to Republicans, a 12:1 ratio. Those who gave $10,000 or more gave $140 million to the Democrats and just $111 million to Republicans. Of the top 10 individual contributors to candidates that year, only one gave to Republicans.
In 2000, Bush’s “Pioneers” received considerable press for their efforts to raise $100,000 each for the campaign. But the really big donors that year were Democrats. According to the lefty Mother Jones magazine, 18 of the top 25 individual donors to political campaigns were Democrats. In recent years, the Left has been obsessed with the role that the oil and natural-gas industry plays in funding the Republican candidates. Republicans are “in oil companies’ pockets,” says the DNC in one press release. In 2004, according to the CRP, the oil and gas industry pumped $25 million into campaigns, 80 percent of it to the GOP.
But that pales in comparison to industries and interests that fund the Democratic party. That same year lawyers gave $182 million (75 percent to Democrats) and Hollywood donated $32 million (70 percent to Democrats).
Despite all of the rhetoric about rich Republicans, the GOP today is largely a party funded by middle-class voters. The average contribution to the GOP hovers around $50, almost identical with the much ballyhooed Internet “grassroots” presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004. The Democrats for some reason won’t release comparable figures.
But the super-rich are not just giving to Democrats, they are increasingly running for office. In the Senate, often called a millionaires club, those with the really big money are Democrats. Of the five U.S. senators worth more than $25 million (John Kerry, Herb, Kohl, John Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, and Lincoln Chafee) according to Roll Call, only Chafee is a Republican.
Ned Lamont, currently running for the Senate in Connecticut, is only the latest in a long line of Democrats who have self-financed their campaigns. Thus far he has poured $4 million of his $100 million fortune into the race.
In 2000, Democrat John Corzine poured $60 million of his own money to win a Senate seat in New Jersey, Mark Dayton spent $12 million to win in Minnesota, Maria Cantwell $10 million Washington, and Herb Kohl $5 million to retain his seat in Wisconsin. In contrast, those Republicans who self-financed, according to Steen, did so in much smaller amounts.
Wealthy Republicans self-finance, too, but not in such large numbers. As National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch has pointed out (using data provided by Boston College professor Jennifer Steen), between 1990 and 2000 self-financing candidates who spent more than $4 million of their own money were Democrats by a 2:1 margin. According to Steen, from 2000 to 2004 the Democrats’ margin rose to 3:1.
As U.S. News & World Report political reporter Michael Barone points out, John Kerry won only one county in the state of Idaho, but it was the county that included the super-rich enclave of Sun Valley. And he carried only one county in Wyoming, the one which included the super-rich community of Jackson Hole. Barone calls this part of the “trust-funder Left.”
So why are we seeing the emergence of liberal millionaires and billionaires?
Part of the answer may lie in the way much of this wealth was accumulated. Some of these individuals (Kerry, Dayton, Rockefeller, etc.) inherited their wealth and are thus less familiar with the rigors of the marketplace. Sure they have stock investments, but they haven’t spent time building a business or even holding down a demanding job in corporate America. Others, particularly in the high-tech sector and Hollywood, amassed their wealth quickly and faced fewer challenges in dealing with invasive government and regulations. They see wealth as something that happens quickly, not something that is build up over time. The Silicon Valley 30-year-old worth $200 million on a stock IPO after six years in the business is likely to have a different view of wealth accumulation than the industrialist who amassed a similar fortune over the course of a lifetime. A life of wealth seems more like a lottery, and less like the end result of hard work.
Ironically, Democrats, who talk about income inequality and plutocracy, are now the party of the super rich. The super rich have different priorities and concerns than other Americans. Taxes don’t bite as hard because they can hire accounts and lawyers to avoid or minimize them. They tend to be less religious and therefore less concerned with issues of faith. And they can embrace causes that will impact society and not really affect them. For example, several liberal billionaires have embraced the cause of drug legalization, which would probably cause enormous problems in middle America but would have less affect inside large fence-lined compounds. In short, a political party dominated by the super rich is going to have some issues knowing what concerns ordinary Americans.