CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING: BIG VS. SMALL CONTRIBUTORS

ABSTRACT: Although every campaign likes to tout the importance and number of its small contributors, it’s large donors who give the bulk of the money. A few big contributors (0.1% of all contributors) give more than the millions of small contributors (90% of all contributors). As of June, 26% of the $469 million raised for the Obama campaign and affiliates (including Super PACs) was from contributions of $200 or less, while 7% of Romney’s $362 million was contributions of $200 or less. 112 so-called “mega-donors” (1 out of every 3 million Americans) have each contributed over $500,000. Super PACs have raised a total of $298 million for the 2012 election cycle; 70% of these contributions come from the 112 mega-donors.

Justice Posner, a Republican and not a judicial liberal, said recently that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (which allows these huge campaign contributions) has created a political system that is “pervasively corrupt [where] wealthy people essentially bribe legislators.”

Despite all of this, I encourage you to send your small contributions to candidates. I do believe that candidates and office holders listen a bit more closely to contributors. However, it will be essential to stay engaged and active after the election to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.

FULL POST:

Although every campaign likes to tout the importance and number of its small contributors (typically those contributing $200 or less to a federal office campaign), the truth is that it’s the large donors who give the bulk of the money. As of June, 2.5 million small contributors have given $148 million to the 2012 presidential candidates; this is not a small amount but it accounts for less than 18% of the total raised. On the other hand, 2,100 donors of $50,000 or more have given $200 million to the candidates’ campaigns and affiliated groups, including Super PACs. This means that these few big contributors (0.1% of all contributors) give more than the millions of small contributors (90% of all contributors).

Clearly, from a campaign fundraiser’s perspective, it is more cost effective to schmooze a few hundred rich people than to try to cultivate a few hundred thousand small contributors. Although the overall pattern is similar, there is a noticeable difference between the fundraising of Democrat Obama and Republican Romney: as of June, 26% of the $469 million raised for the Obama campaign and affiliates (including Super PACs) was from contributions of $200 or less, while 7% of Romney’s $362 million was contributions of $200 or less. [1]

Large campaign donors, the 1 out of every 400 Americans who give over $200 to Congressional campaigns, have a disproportionate impact on our elections, both on who gets to run (see 8/6/12 post) and who wins. But there’s an even smaller group that is having a truly outsized impact on the current elections: 112 so-called “mega-donors” (1 out of every 3 million Americans) have each contributed over $500,000. They are led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson who through June has given $38 million to Super PACs. Super PACs had their biggest fundraising month so far in June when they raised $54 million. This brings the total amount they have raised for the 2012 election cycle to $298 million; 70% of these contributions come from the 112 mega-donors. [2] And this is just the part of the iceberg we know about. (See my 8/10/12 post on non-profit organizations that don’t have to disclose contributors and are outspending the Super PACs.)

Justice Posner of the US 7th Court of Appeals, a Republican and not a judicial liberal, said recently that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (which allows these huge campaign contributions) has created a political system that is “pervasively corrupt [where] wealthy people essentially bribe legislators.” [3]

Despite all of this, I encourage you to send your small contributions to candidates. They do make a difference and do identify you to the candidate (and hopefully office holder) as an engaged citizen. I do believe that candidates and office holders listen a bit more closely to contributors than non-contributors. However, given the reality of where the bulk of the campaign money comes from, it is essential to stay engaged and active after the election to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.


[1]       Vogel, K.P., 8/7/12, “Election 2012: The myth of the small donor,” Politico

[2]       Blumenthal, P., 7/27/12, “Super PAC mega-donors surpass 100, June best Super PAC month ever,” Huffington Post

[3]       Moyers, B., & Winship, M., 7/17/12, “Presto! The DISCLOSE Act disappears,” Moyers & Company

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