See who’s buying your government

Meet America’s new gatekeepers to public office: 31,385 people who represent 0.01 percent of the nation’s population, but 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions: a cool $1.7 billion.

This “1 percent of the 1 percent” is analyzed in a new report out today from the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan good-government group. The report found these people’s money reached the campaign coffers of every winning congressional seat last year; in fact, 84 percent of House and Senate campaigns took more money from this donor group than from all small (under $200) donations received.

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Unsurprisingly, California tops the list of states from which this money comes, at $239 million; next is New York with $210 million, Texas with $198 million, Florida with $119 million and Nevada with $115 million. Lists of all donors broken down by state can be found online.

And Atherton ranked fourth among all U.S. cities, with 97 donors giving $5.7 million.

Sunlight reviewed disclosed donations for the 2012 cycle to federal candidates, party committees, congressional campaign committees, PACs and super PACs. Making the list required at least $12,950 in donations, a number that has increased steadily in recent decades.

“The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans,” noted Sunlight senior fellow Lee Drutman. “They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States.”

Of the people on the list, 15,343 predominantly supported Republican candidates and committees while 11,088 predominately supported the Democrats. They’re almost 72 percent male, with the top five listed occupations being retired (4,131), president (2,764), attorney (2,738), CEO (2,671) and homemaker (2,432).

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Made the list.

  • JohnW

    Not to be picky, but .1 percent is ten percent of one percent, not “one percent of the one percent.”

    I don’t have a problem with wealthier people donating a disproportionate share of direct contributions to political candidates. The money for these campaigns has to come from somewhere. The amount that an individual can give to any one candidate is limited. And the contributions are fully disclosed.

    SuperPacs, with unlimited and anonymous contributions are an entirely different matter. Corporations and mega-wealthy individuals/families being able to spend unlimited amounts to support a candidate (often including judges) who will do their bidding, or to defeat somebody who won’t do their bidding is a recipe for total corruption. That’s plutocracy! Yes, unions too. But their contributions are generally disclosed. We know it’s corrupt, but at least we know who is corrupting whom.

  • Josh Richman

    @2 – Sorry, John, that was my typo – I’ve corrected the item to reflect that it’s 0.01 percent of the population.

  • RR senile columnist

    Them rich folks love them politicos

  • Publius

    A self inflicted strangle hold- Big Business, Big Government, and Big Labor are working towards a common goal. The goal to own our government.

    This will be hard for most Californians to understand:

    To reduce the influence of money, you need to reduce the size and power of government. The product produced by political contributions is influence. If there is nothing to influence then there will be no product to purchase, the market to give a politico money based on business interest would thus be reduced. Big government and crony capitalism walk hand in hand.

    Though the article above mentioned nothing of organized labor {I wonder why?}. When talking of government for sale the union movement should be highlighted as well. The size of government has created a massive vested voting block (public employees), a reduction in size would curtail that blue collar plutocracy.

    #2- Just because every one knows the unions are corrupting the government does not make it OK. That comment shows that you are truly blinded by party affiliation and are part of the problem.

    At the heart of the problem is the politician that lacks conviction and virtue. The root of the problem is with an mis-educated populace that thinks that government is the answer. Which is worse:

    -A pol that will sell his vote to retain funds so he can hold or gain power?

    -The business man who will buy influence to increase profits or personal fortune?

    -The union man who will vote for the pol that will make sure he gets a raise and a cushy pension?

    -The ordinary non organized private sector worker, non .001% er that votes for the guy that will kiss the ass of the above vested interest?

  • BGR

    Ditto John W and Publius. Thanks to Josh for posting this.

  • JohnW

    #5 Publius

    Re: “That comment (about unions) shows that you are truly blinded by party affiliation and are part of the problem”

    With all due respect, you obviously have not seen dozens of comments I’ve posted here about public employee unions and the stranglehold they have on state government. Nor have you seen numerous e-mails I’ve sent to Dan Borenstein offering additional information and analysis on his coverage of pension abuses. Or e-mails I’ve sent to county supervisors and state legislators on the subject. Or the angry letter I sent to our legislators when they interfered with the BART negotiations. Or my reaction to the NLRB’s stupid obstruction of the Boeing expansion in South Carolina. Or my agreement with that famous right-winger, George McGovern, objecting to union efforts to pass “Card Check.” Or my thoughts on teacher union interference with education reform.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in legitimate collective bargaining. I do.

  • Elwood

    “Or the angry letter I sent to our legislators when they interfered with the BART negotiations.”

    Hope you saved your letter. You’ll be needing it again soon. All you’ll need to do is change the date.

  • JohnW


    Oh, I’m sure that my letter last time made such a deep impression that they would never do that again!

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Rich people are my neighbors. They also pay more property tax. I just wish rich people would be allowed to run government programs, like public schools, the postal service & the prison system. All need better ideas. All need an act of Congress to change. But the Republicans are owned by contractors & Democrats are owned by big labor. Rich people create jobs.

  • RR senile columnist

    I wrote an angry message to BART about their filthy restrooms. Mr BART, pay attention !

  • JohnW


    You go into BART restrooms? Those are HazMat areas!

  • JohnW


    “Rich people create jobs.”

    Faulty thinking. It would be more accurate to say that most people who create jobs are rich, or soon will be. It is not necessarily accurate to say that most rich people create jobs.

    As to whether your rich neighbors are paying more property tax, that may or may not be the case depending on how long they have been under Prop. 13 protection. I often look up homes listed for sale at multi-million dollar prices that have lower property tax bills than I do, at least until they change hands.

  • RR senile columnist

    The aristos DO create jobs. They are too lazy or too busy or too distracted to perform many ordinary tasks we slobbos routinely do.

  • JohnW


    Sure, if hiring nannies and gardeners is your idea of creating jobs!

    The wealthy who are job creators are people who became wealthy by creating jobs. They didn’t create jobs by being wealthy.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Most of my rich neighbors are workaholics. To get rich you need to have a go go attitude. Families with 2 incomes, do hire nannies & gardeners & plumbers & builders & mechanics to name a few. So do middle class government workers. A few rich people do some of their own yard work. Some of my richest neighbors even pick up other peoples trash that’s left in our neighborhood..
    Poor people create jobs too. Welfare workers, probation officers, prison guards, school teachers & bus drivers. To name a few. Oh gee! People with those jobs, belong to the unions, who give money to politicians.

  • MichaelB


    The “go go” attitude is exactly what so called “progressives” discourage with their policies. It’s been replaced with an entitlement mentality.

    If you do what your parents told you to do when you were young – get an education, a good paying job, save your money, work extra hours to start a business, etc. expect Obama and his left wing minions/apologists to claim that “you didn’t build that”, “it’s not fair”, “you are not paying your fair share”, “you don’t need that amount of income/wealth”, “we need to spread that wealth around”, “you made someone else poor in the process”, etc.

    Success is now “bad”. Welcome to the “fundamentally transformed” America. You can only “get ahead” by taking from someone who already has. Disgusting.