A joint analysis released recently by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics found that in the 2014 elections, 31,976 people — the one percent of the one percent of the American population — accounted for $1.18 billion in disclosed federal political contributions.
Of those 31,976, a small subset — barely five dozen — earned the (even more) rarefied distinction of giving more than $1 million each. And just three individuals contributed more than $10 million apiece.
“Once again, the data show that just a fraction of people wield a disproportionate amount of influence in our elections,” said Sunlight Foundation President Chris Gates. “That the one percent of the one percent of Americans are contributing $1.18 billion in campaigns is staggering, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is even more money changing hands during the election that is not disclosed to the public.”
The one percent of the one percent accounted for more than $1 out of every $4 contributed to PACs, super PACs, parties and candidates. Members of the group contributed at least $8,800, a bit less than in prior cycles. The median contribution was $14,750, while the biggest donor — San Francisco hedge fund manager and environmental advocate Tom Steyer — gave more than $73 million.
Other top donors include Fred Eychaner, Sheldon Adelson and Charles Koch. Contributions from the top 10 donors totaled more than $161 million. They’re among the 63 donors who gave more than $1 million individually.
“As an elite group of political benefactors – many of them from the financial sector – provides a larger share of the funds, we have to ask ourselves whether their return on investment is also growing, and what that means,” said Center for Responsive Politics Executive Director Sheila Krumholz. “Do we have a system that represents all constituents equally or one that favors those picking up the tab?”
Using CRP data, the Sunlight Foundation first reported on the influence of the one percent of the one percent in the 2010 election cycle, and followed up with further analysis after the 2012 presidential election cycle. During the 2012 election, 31,385 made up the one percent of the one percent.
Among the new names this past cycle is Jeremy Grantham, a Boston investor and philanthropist known for his support of environmental causes, who donated $1.65 million to the League of Conservation Voters super PAC. The contribution puts him at No. 33 of the 31,976.
None of the top 20 donors, however, were new to the one percent of the one percent.
“The flood of money that these individuals are pouring into the political system certainly raises questions about whom our democracy is serving,” Gates said. “It’s not surprising that some voters find themselves wondering, compared to the influence of millions of dollars, what is the value of my single vote?”