The Sunlight Foundation took a look at the 2012 election and found that not a single candidate for federal office won without taking a donation from the 31,385 people who make up the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of American politics. The median contribution from this group was $26,584 — which is more than the median income of an average American family.
These top one percent of the one percenters are not representative of America, of course. They predominantly live in big cities and work for Fortune 500 companies. The minimum contribution to be in this group is $13,054 an election — and that number keeps growing.
Sunlight argues that the Citizens United decision, which paved the way for unlimited donations to PACs, is behind the rise — though 87.5 percent did not donate to any PACs at all. Winning congressional candidates on average received more money from these 31,385 top donors (17.1 percent) than all of their small donors combined (13 percent).
Both major parties benefit from these uber-donors, though they do tend to favor Republicans.
So why does this matter?
Lawrence Lessig says it makes for a “corruption” of our democracy, where only .5 percent of Americans truly have a say in how it works.
And there’s no better example of this than how we regulate Wall Street. Lessig writes:
The most important architectural feature of Dodd-Frank is that the most important regulations of Dodd-Frank were not actually in the bill. Instead, Dodd-Frank punted the guts of its potential reform to a multi-year regulatory process. Almost 400 rules were to be written by regulators (with the generous aid of lobbyists): a process, which five years after the crisis, has not yet come to an end.
It doesn’t take a PhD in game theory to understand what that design was about. By shifting the core of the regulations to a procedure stretched over years and dominated by bank lobbyists, the bankers could minimize the chance that this “change” would actually change anything real—and ensure that public and press attention would drift elsewhere as the new rules were worked out.
And that’s precisely what has happened.
Democrats eager to close the gap with those 31,385 top donors are eagerly listening to Wall Street’s advice when it comes to writing these regulations. And that’s music to the 1 percent of the 1 percent’s ears.