Here’s issue #17 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/29/12. The campaign fundraising issue is a complex and critically important one. Here’s one final piece – for now – on this topic.

First, a little more information on where all the money comes from:

  • Wall Street’s big donors, those who give over $10,000, dominate the individual contributions to campaigns. Their contributions of $178 million in the non-presidential 2010 elections and $328 million in the 2008 presidential election cycle are triple those of the next most generous sector, lawyers. The Wall Street contributions are roughly 10 times what they were 20 years ago. [1]
  • 90% of the Super PAC spending of about $30 million in the Republican primaries is coming from “probably fewer than 100 people” according to David Donnelly of the Public Action Campaign Fund. [2]
  • Roughly 72% ($3.4 billion) of all campaign contributions in 2007 – 2010 came from the business sector (individuals and organizations), with labor contributing 4% ($172 million), ideological groups 7% ($308 million), and others 17%. [3]
  • Campaign giving is of course closely linked with lobbying. The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest lobbying organization, spent $66 million in 2011. Of the top 20 lobbying groups (each spent at least $13 million), only two are not corporations or business associations, the American Medical Association and the AARP. [4]

A variety of initiatives are working to get campaign contributions and their undue influence under control:

  • Partial public financing of campaigns is working in states fromMaine toArizona where small individual contributions are matched by public funds and total spending is capped (although Supreme Court rulings have weakened some key elements of these state systems). We have a partial public financing system for our Presidential elections that was enacted in response to the Watergate scandal (where secret, large contributions were funneled to the Watergate burglary and related activities), however its effectiveness has been greatly diminished if not eliminated by the huge amounts of money in our presidential campaigns.
  • Hundreds of communities across the US, including Los Angeles and New York City, have passed resolutions asking Congress for an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited spending by corporations in our elections. A number of state legislatures are considering resolutions as well. [5]  Numerous organizations have come together to organize these efforts. (See and for example.)
  • In Montana, the state Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 law limiting corporate spending in campaigns, despite a lower court ruling that Citizens United invalidated the law. The law was enacted when it was common practice for the copper industry to bribe state politicians. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals similarly upheld a New York City law putting limits on political contributions. [6]

Huge campaign contributions by corporations, wealthy individuals, and other groups mean that our elections are not a fair fight, that our “we the people” democracy is undermined by the influence of money, and that there is great potential for outright corruption. Limiting individuals’ contributions and eliminating contributions from corporations are not silencing anyone; they are simply ensuring that some voices aren’t so loud that they drown out all others. If, as the Citizens United decision says, money equals speech, then those with more money have louder voices, and those with no money have no voice. This flies in the face of the principles of our democracy and the Constitution that our founders wrote.

[1]       Drutman, L., 1/26/12, “On FIRE: How the finance, insurance, and real estate sector drove the growth of the political 1% of the 1%,”,

[2]       Eggen, D., 1/16/12, “Super PACs dominate Republican primary spending,” The Washington Post

[3]       Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 1/29/12, “Business-Labor-Ideology split in PAC and individual donations to candidates and parties,”

[4]       Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 1/29/12, “Lobbying: Top spenders,”  

[5]       Jarvis, B., 1/6/12, “How cities and states are sticking it to Citizens United,” YES! Magazine

[6], 1/4/12, “States take on Citizens United,”


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