Politicians Don’t Even Care About Small Donors Any More

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

As campaign spending increases, the impact of small donors is being overshadowed by big wallets. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $3.67 billion will be spent in this year’s midterm election campaign — making it the most expensive midterm campaign ever.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, within that almost $4 billion, $2.7 billion will be spent by from candidates and parties and $900 million of the spending will come from outside groups. The center notes that the $900 million in outside spending is close to the $1.3 billion spent in 2012 during the presidential election.

Republicans are projected to outspend Democrats by a few billion — the Fiscal Times reports that “Republican and conservative-leaning candidates, party committees and outside groups will spent at least $1.9 billion, compared to at least $1.76 billion by Democrats and liberal-leaning groups.” But the “explosion in outside money” is the real story, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ analysis.

In 2010, outside spending added up to $309 million, while this year has already seen $480 million as of October 29 (with six days remaining until election day and the possibility of runoffs extending the campaign). Because of this increased spending by outside groups, candidates are spending less money. OpenSecrets.org reports that House candidates spent over $1 billion in 2010 and will spend $945 million this year, while Senate candidates spent $779 million in 2010 and will spend $636 million in 2014. 

According to OpenSecrets.org, 429 outside groups spent $497 million by October 29, which most of it, $305 million, spent by 200 super PACs. And this excess money is coming from big donors, not an overall increase in the amount of donors. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that the majority of Americans do not donate to federal candidates or committees. Only 0.19% of Americans give more than $200, which is the lower limit for having spending disclosures. Those who give more than $200 are the ones bankrolling campaigns — for this year, they make up 66% of the total donations.

The largest industry donating is Wall Street, which has spent $171.1 million. Unsurprisingly, Wall Street’s dollars are conservative-leaning: 62% of the $100.8 million in contributions to candidates and party committees went to Republicans, while 38% went to Democrats. And the other $70 million went to outside groups, and $45.8 million of it went to conservative-leaning groups.

As for the largest single donors, billionaire Tom Steyer, who made his money in hedge funds, brought environmental-related donations up with his $73.7 million in contributions to outside groups, all  of which were focused on the environment or aligned with Democrats. For Democrats, the second-largest donor was New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, with $20 million to super PACs, followed by Fred Eychaner ($7.9 million), George Soros ($3.5 million), and hedge-funder James Simons and his wife Marilyn ($3 million).

Conservatives were much more prevalent on the list of top single donors, taking up 15 spots in the top 20. Paul Singer, of hedge fund Elliott Management, took the lead in conservative donations with $9.3 million. Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian casino in Las Vegas, gave $5 million (last cycle, he gave $92 million). Other top conservative donors include Linda and Vince McMahon ($2.6 million) and Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans football team ($3 million).

The larger these single donations get, the less meaning there is for those small donations — those less than $200 donations from politically engaged voters — and the less reason for politicians to work for those donations rather than focusing on winning the support of the elite and the rich.

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