The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election
October 11, 2015 1:01 PM   Subscribe

The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential ElectionThey are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel.

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.
posted by tonycpsu (41 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
The amazing and depressing thing about this is that an average $1M a head is peanuts to these guys (some were "only" giving hundreds of k).

One of the hedgies gave $150m to Harvard in a gift! Wait till the repubs pick their candidate....the real cash will start flowing.....

If you want to be more depressed, read the imperfect but fascinating article "Sheldon Adelson is Ready to Buy the Presidency"
posted by lalochezia at 1:26 PM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Republicans are having a primary campaign and thus presently need monies for it. The Democrats are appointing Hillary, which is cheaper.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:47 PM on October 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you want to be more depressed, read the imperfect but fascinating article "Sheldon Adelson is Ready to Buy the Presidency"

If you want to be slightly less depressed, know that he "bought" the presidency last cycle, too, and lost.
posted by indubitable at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


Yeah, there is nothing to see here, not unless Hillary and Sanders or Biden throw down. Just Republicans fighting over their favorite clown from the clown car. Is it even clear if this primary's defacto victor ala Romney even entered the race yet?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The party disparity is misleading, and temporary.

Republican dollars are actively engaged in trying to develop their candidates now, while the big Democratic dollars are still on the sidelines. Clinton burned a LOT of guys in 2008 with her inability to close, and they aren't going to be dumb twice. They're waiting to see what Biden does, and waiting to see if Sanders is a real threat. If Biden doesn't run and Clinton wins Iowa and New Hampshire, her 529s will be well over $500mm within a few weeks, and they'll top a billion easy before November.
posted by MattD at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Interesting that the comments here so far are focused on the strictly partisan aspect of this, not on the insanity of the system no matter who it favours.
posted by wilful at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2015 [50 favorites]


Although the amount of money is distressing, in the long run it is small change. Obama collected over 1 billion in both elections, most of it from small donors.

These big donors aren't buying anything other than a meeting or two, so these are vanity plays. It boggles the mind.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want to be slightly less depressed, know that he "bought" the presidency last cycle, too, and lost.

If you want to be slightly more depressed again, we were lucky, in that Mother Jones published an expose that showed how much disdain Sheldon's puppet had for most voters. We can only hope we are lucky again, where MJ has another video waiting in the wings for whichever clown makes it through the Republican primaries. It's a testament to Mother Jones that VanderSloot and the LDS weren't able to get revenge on behalf of Romney and shut them down before the 2016 election (previously).
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:06 PM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


These big donors aren't buying anything other than a meeting or two, so these are vanity plays.

Even Bernanke Asks How Bankers Avoided Jail
posted by benzenedream at 2:09 PM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


These big donors aren't buying anything other than a meeting or two, so these are vanity plays. It boggles the mind.

Yeah that's how these people got so rich, by blowing millions of dollars on stuff that wouldn't benefit them. Right.
posted by one_bean at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates
Only 'almost half'? They can't even do 50.1%?

And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.
And the billionaires in all those other industries are sitting back and letting the finance and energy billionaires do the early investing, while they wait for better signs of future ROI, like good Venture Capitalists. Then again, there are even billionaires in Multi Level Marketing who have stepped forward. (VanderSloot!)

Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign
And there were some relatively Liberal people elected way back then! So, why does now feel so different?

Relatively few... hail from dynasties of inherited wealth.
Helps explain why Trump stopped 'buying candidates' (his own words) and became one himself. Of course, his 'self-financed' campaign is all in LOANS from himself, which, once he reaches a certain achievement level (possibly before the nomination), the 158 Families will easily allow him to pay himself back. It IS one of the better con jobs of our time. But if $$$ alone could buy the White House for the Republicans, Trump would be their obvious choice.

Republican dollars are actively engaged in trying to develop their candidates now, while the big Democratic dollars are still on the sidelines.
A lot of those Big Democratic Dollars will be from financial interests who are grateful Obama didn't totally change the rules of the 2008 bailout (and land them in jail) and who still thank Mr. Clinton for much of the bank deregulation we have to live with today. The only thing that would keep them on the sidelines or defecting to the GOP would be a Sanders nomination. (I heard that some of them held back in 2000 when Gore started sounding more liberal than his old boss)
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah that's how these people got so rich, by blowing millions of dollars on stuff that wouldn't benefit them. Right.

There's no reason to assume that these people are rational and intelligent just because they're rich. Also, a lot of them didn't really put any work into getting rich and just kind of had it land in their lap. Hell, look at Trump. The guy is deeply financially incompetent, but when you have the kind of tremendous advantages that a bequeathed fortune (and an extremely wealthy upbringing) gives you, you almost can't lose.
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:28 PM on October 11, 2015


I love the myth that America is a democracy.
posted by stanf at 2:34 PM on October 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is my new list of families to not accept invitations from should the revolution which isn't televised actually occur.
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:39 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to assume that these people are rational and intelligent just because they're rich. Also, a lot of them didn't really put any work into getting rich and just kind of had it land in their lap.

I know it's hard to read the article, but at least check out the pull quote.
posted by one_bean at 3:15 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there is nothing to see here, not unless Hillary and Sanders or Biden throw down. Just Republicans fighting over their favorite clown from the clown car.

Unless maybe a more respectable, saner Republican candidate is losing his or her shot at the candidacy because of a dearth of funding, due to not being willing to pander to the uber-rich.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:51 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The current odds on which party will win the White House, and the odds for the specific Democrat, and Republican candidate.
posted by Wordshore at 3:57 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know it's hard to read the article, but at least check out the pull quote.

It's like two paragraphs long. Ain't nobody got time for that.
posted by Justinian at 4:20 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


wilful Interesting that the comments here so far are focused on the strictly partisan aspect of this, not on the insanity of the system no matter who it favours.

Lewis Black had something to say about this: “I don't know if you've noticed, but our two-party system is a bowl of shit looking at itself in the mirror.”
posted by key_of_z at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Interesting that the comments here so far are focused on the strictly partisan aspect of this, not on the insanity of the system no matter who it favours.

When one party is significantly more aligned with the rich than the other, a pro-money system is inherently partisan.
posted by chortly at 5:23 PM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


after listening to two podcasts on revolutions and thinking about politics, im working on a new theory:
there's literally no point for people at our SEC to be engaged in politics. We need to focus on building individual-level advantages, and ignore national/international level issues. An analogy: we need to stop acting like we can control if it's going to rain, and focus on building a roof
posted by rebent at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mother Jones published an expose that showed how much disdain Sheldon's puppet had for most voters

I thought Newt Gingrich was Sheldon's puppet, not Mitt Romney.
posted by Slothrup at 6:33 PM on October 11, 2015


Ah, MeFites during election season: "I'm the most cynical! Give me all the favorites!"

is it working?
posted by Guy Smiley at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


Can we establish mores and other social controls to inhibit this phenomenon? Is there some form of activism that can change the culture within these elites?
posted by humanfont at 7:19 PM on October 11, 2015


Remember kids: don't believe anything you hear in a campaign ad, no matter who it's from. Don't believe anything you hear in a robocall. Just ignore everything that looks like it could be advertising. If you can't do it completely do the best you can. Just think of all those rich people wasting their money trying to influence you.
posted by JHarris at 7:22 PM on October 11, 2015


Ah, MeFites during election season: "I'm the most cynical! Give me all the favorites!"

is it working?


um if you srsly want to make a run at being the most cynical on mefi, do note that your competition includes people who like regularly namedrop Diogenes himself.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:34 PM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


>>If you want to be more depressed, read the imperfect but fascinating article "Sheldon Adelson is Ready to Buy the Presidency"

>If you want to be slightly less depressed, know that he "bought" the presidency last cycle, too, and lost.


The thing is, to a degree it doesn't matter that you lost. You have a good point that the fact that you can't just take $100 million or a $1 billion and throw it down on the table and win hands down, means that there is some degree of sanity left in the system.

But. People who put down big money and have a big (though less than pivotal) effect on the primary system are getting plenty of bang for their buck, believe me.

For starters, they establish themselves as major players in the system and you had better believe that other and future candidates at all levels start to make calculations about what will happen in $Rich_Person_X sides with them or against them or is neutral.

Second, and often more important, the wackadoodle ideas that these zombie/propped-up candidates keep bringing to the table over and over with this major financial backing, start to be taken very seriously indeed. A lot of the things we see the Republican House pushing forward over and over and over again are, not coincidentally, the very same ideas that Propped-up Zombie Candidates were pushing hard throughout the last presidential elections.

In any political system, you generally can't just take a lot of money and buy a win, 1-2-3, just like that. The reason is that there is a balance of power among various forces. Unless you are clearly more powerful than ALL other political forces all added together, you have no way of just forcing any particular result. Especially if it is of interest to any other major forces in the political marketplace--because that means you must defeat not just one or two other players in the field approximately as powerful as you, but dozens or hundreds of such players. That doesn't happen very often, unless most such players have their interests aligned in a particular issue (which is in fact one of the major dangers of the sort of oligarchical control of the political process we are more and more seeing in the U.S. since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision).

But what you can do with a lot of money, is move the Overton Window a l-o-n-g way one way or the other. You can introduce ideas and solutions into the debate and keep them there. Over time, people who can do that and keep doing it, win big.

And you may never win big on major national issues of the type covered by the national media, because those issues have many very powerful political interests working on all sides of them. As a rich individual, you might push the debate on these issues some amount one way or the other. But at the same time, you are probably winning big, hundreds of times over, on the "small" non-publicized issues that dramatically affect your own industry and the profitability of the companies you personally own, or that you personally care about dearly for one reason or another.
posted by flug at 8:38 PM on October 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


Adelson excepted, these are all relatively small amounts of money. A million here, a million there... some of these people make that in a month. Given that there are effectively no regulations on campaign finance anymore, it's astonishing that there isn't far more money in politics than there is. We're talking about the ability to make policy affecting the largest economy in the world, worth tens of trillions of dollars. I think the depressing truth is that the status quo is pretty good for the rich and there's not really all that much else they want to get.
posted by miyabo at 9:09 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


A million dollars is a huge amount of money.
posted by humanfont at 9:50 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


What does "self made" mean in this context? Someone who parlayed a million or more from family and friends into a billion, or someone who got a scholarship to Univ. because their parents couldn't afford the tuition, and then made a billion thanks to their smarts, gumption and work ethic? I believe this distinction is important for a number of reasons, the main one being that few, if any of these billionaires are "self made" - I presume.
posted by nikoniko at 9:53 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I should add, the success of and particular direction/influence of the Tea Party in U.S. politics today is a great example of the way massive political donations can directly affect the political process.

The rich folks didn't create the energy or anger that led to the Tea Party. But, boy did they foster it, sustain it, and channel it into a certain particular political direction that is (mostly) the one they highly favor. Look particular at Koch funding behind numerous local/regional/national Tea Party groups here.
posted by flug at 10:06 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the depressing truth is that the status quo is pretty good for the rich and there's not really all that much else they want to get.

That is a conclusion I drew as well from the choice of candidates this cycle. A generalization related to me was that in recent history, the GOP has drawn candidates from the Senate, and issues of seniority and economic heft of a home state determine that long line up. While the democratic party has drawn from states' governers that have "raised" a state's standing in civic/economic metrics.

And that "pattern", for as many exceptions as it might have, doesn't apply since Bill Clinton. But few knew what effects Clinton's de-regulation deals for a second term would bring, except a heavily invested elite. And Bush the Younger's tenure defied all kinds of logic and legitimacy. Obama's ascent, too, tests the rule of my related generalization.

And that a Senate seat holder, Hillary Clinton, supposedly represents any progressive policy just turns it on its head. This cycle's GOP candidates are, to me, a nearly random survey of populist, dying sentiment while Hillary's position seems like the "inherited" one.

I don't believe the most conservative, monied elements of the United States have anything to fear this cycle. It's a big shrug. The degree of consolidation of wealth in 2008 hadn't occurred since the beginning of the 20th century, and though "trickle down" is a groteseque simplification, those monied elements have accumulated a wealth that will be "spent" by the terms and structures they'll dictate over decades.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 2:49 AM on October 12, 2015


I'd be very interested to see what percentage of say, all state legislature campaigns, or all gubernatorial races these same families also provide. As flug noted, It's the constant flow of monied ideas in debates, media quotes, campaign lit, etc that moves the window. And some of those state races are dirt cheap by comparison. You can buy a lot of 'em for what Scott Walker already spilled before quitting.
posted by Gotanda at 3:58 AM on October 12, 2015


What does "self made" mean in this context? Someone who parlayed a million or more from family and friends into a billion, or someone who got a scholarship to Univ. because their parents couldn't afford the tuition, and then made a billion thanks to their smarts, gumption and work ethic? I believe this distinction is important for a number of reasons, the main one being that few, if any of these billionaires are "self made" - I presume.

When he nominated Penny Pritzker for Secretary of Commerce President Obama described her as an "entrepreneur". Fortune magazine calls her a "serial entrepreneur".

She was a Hyatt heir.

There is no mention of her family's $40 million tax evasion settlement. There is no mention of their half billion savings and loan banking fraud settlement. The massive crimes of the extremely wealthy are at most awkward footnotes even before the current era of complete immunity.

There is a great deal of mythologizing about the wealthy in this country and lying seems to starts from the very top.
posted by srboisvert at 5:04 AM on October 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


The Romney 47% video was revealing, and great fodder for political junkies, but it had no significant effect on the election's outcome.
posted by raysmj at 6:02 AM on October 12, 2015


Nate Silver seemed to disagree.

The overall story line, however, is fairly clear: Mr. Romney is at best holding ground in the polls, and quite possibly losing some, at a time when he needs to be gaining it instead. Further, it’s increasingly implausible for Mr. Romney to attribute the numbers to temporary effects from the Democratic convention.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:00 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Many of them really, really are self-made millionaires. The top 10 are:

1) Robert Mercer -- not sure about family background, but he does have a PhD in computer science so he's not a total slacker
2) Toby Neugebauer -- dad is a very successful politician but not rich
3) Kelcy Warren -- dad owned a small welding company, did go to college
4) Darwin Deason -- poor family, no college
5) Norman Braman -- parents owned a barber shop, went to college
6) Diane Hendricks -- widow of Ken Hendricks, very poor family, high school dropout
7) Farris Wilks -- poor family, college dropout
8) Joann Wilks -- same?
9) Marlene Ricketts -- husband started a finance firm at age 30, so probably didn't start from zero
10) Miguel Fernandez -- Cuban refugee who started with no money

Precisely zero of them have massive inherited fortunes. None went to Ivy League schools or have upper-class markers like law degrees and MBAs.

You could make a compelling argument that rich people who came from lower-class backgrounds are much more likely to be major Republican donors. Maybe they have a chip on their shoulder?

Regardless, getting rich on your own is a nice achievement (plus a good dose of luck), but it doesn't mean you should have undue power over the rest of the country.
posted by miyabo at 8:43 AM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


But what you can do with a lot of money, is move the Overton Window a l-o-n-g way one way or the other. You can introduce ideas and solutions into the debate and keep them there. Over time, people who can do that and keep doing it, win big.

See Roger Millikan.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:51 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holy cow, longdaysjourney. What a piece of shit.
posted by notsnot at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2015


Many of them really, really are self-made millionaires.

Well, a millionaire who didn't inherit wealth is seldom "self-made"; they still usually make their money from the labor of others, especially in the top industries donating, finance and energy.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:25 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]




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