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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

The Wealthiest Americans Are Throwing Big Money at Presidential Candidates


The wealthiest in the U.S. are trying to buy the presidential elections. Politico’s analysis of the top 100 presidential campaign donors reveals that they’ve spent $195 million this year.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are the biggest recipients of cash from these top 100 donors. Super PACs (political action committees) gave Hillary’s campaign $38 million raised from the top 100, donors and Jeb has received $49 million from these donors.

Some of the top 100 donors are likely looking for another Republican candidate to put their money on considering Jeb’s lackluster performance in Iowa and New Hampshire where he garnered 2.8 percent and 11 percent of the votes, respectively. Ted Cruz might be their man as he received $37 million from the top 100 donors.

Cruz has the support of four of the top six donors on the list (the Wilks family of Cisco, Texas, New York hedge fund tycoon Bob Mercer, Texas energy investor Toby Neugebauer, and Illinois manufacturing moguls Dick and Liz Uihlein).

Or it could be Marco Rubio. He raised $22 million from top donors and “appears to have the support of 14 of them, suggesting his ultra-rich supporters might be willing to spend even more to support him,” Politico reports.

Why is there so much money flowing from the wealthiest in the U.S. this election cycle? Here are two words for you: Citizens United. As Politico put it, its analysis “illustrates the unprecedented influence of the ultra-rich in the second presidential cycle after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which cleared the way for unlimited campaign spending and led to the creation of super PACs.”

Let’s look a bit closer at Citizens United, the January 2010 Supreme Court case which ruled that “political spending is a form of protected speech under the first amendment,” and the government can’t “keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.”

The Center for Public Integrity sums up Citizens United by stating that it “tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications” and “gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.”

The 2012 presidential election, the first one since the Supreme Court ruling, boasted “more than twice the political spending as any previous election,” Reclaim Democracy says of the effects of Citizens United. The nonprofit attributed the increase in political spending to Citizens United, declaring that “independent political spending of the kind Citizens United allows accounted for all of that increase.”

There is a presidential candidate who rails against Citizens United and does not have a super PAC. His name is Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), and although he sits in the Senate as an independent, he is running for the Democratic nomination. At last week’s Democratic debate, Sanders proclaimed: “We have today a campaign finance system which is corrupt, which is undermining American democracy, which allows Wall Street and billionaires to pour huge sums of money into the political process.”

Politico contrasts the campaign contributions of Clinton and Sanders. In 2015, super PACs supporting Clinton raised $55 million and $38 million of that was from the top 100 donors, which included $8 million from the fifth largest donor, financier George Soros. Sen. Sanders has “relatively little support” from super PACs, Politico reports.

On Sanders website he has a blog post titled, Getting Big Money Out of Politics and Restoring Democracy, and in it he describes the political campaign-finance system as “corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests.” In the blog post, Sanders mentions Citizens United, characterizing it as “disastrous” and calls for overturning it “through a constitutional amendment.” He also states that “we need to move toward the public funding of elections.”

Whether Sanders can actually get the Democratic presidential nomination remains to be seen. But his campaign is the only one highlighting a big problem in American elections, and he backs up his words by not having a super PAC. What effects his words and actions have on elections in the long term also remains to be seen. For the sake of democracy, we can only hope he has an impact.

Photo: Flickr/Michael Vadon

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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