Sad Truth

The 1 Percent of the 1 Percent

06.24.13 4:46 PM ET

On this heavy news day, I wish to draw your attention not to the Supreme Court or Edward Snowden's whereabouts but a study, by the Sunlight Foundation, that is arguably more interesting than either of those first two topics. The report, by Lee Drutman, explains a lot about US politics:

In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States...

...One sign of the reach of this elite “1% of the 1%”: Not a single member of the House or Senate elected last year won without financial assistance from this group. Money from the nation’s 31,385 biggest givers found its way into the coffers of every successful congressional candidate. And 84 percent of those elected in 2012 took more money from these 1% of the 1% donors than they did from all of their small donors (individuals who gave $200 or less) combined.

This elite 1% of the 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reachednew small donor frontiers (small donors are defined as individuals giving in increments of less than $200). In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase.

The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans. 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.

Drutman goes on the dramatize this elite in a number of ways and to slice and dice the data similarly. The 1 percent of the 1 percent is about 40 more Repubilcan than Democratic, unsurprisingly, although the group basically bankrolls both parties. The price of being in the 1 percent of the 1 percent has skyrocketed over recent election cycles and is now more than $11,000.

It's an important and very depressing document, which is perhaps not the greatest advertisement for persuading you to read it, but I do hope you'll take a look. It's too much to say that our political system works only for this class. But it's no longer a grotesque exaggeration. I'd say the Republicans work for about the top 1.5 percent or maybe 2 percent, and the Democrats work for the top 12 or 15 percent, with regularly occuring efforts in behalf of the broader middle that the whole party cannot or will not support, and very occasional gestures toward the bottom percentiles. And that's the party of the left!