Billionaires’ Political Spending Grew 37-Fold in 10 Years
2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) signage is displayed inside the Spectrum Center during a media walk-through in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Billionaires’ Political Spending Grew 37-Fold in 10 Years

U.S. billionaires gave 37 times as much in political contributions in the last election as they did 10 years earlier, according to a new study focusing on the richest Americans’ political giving.

During the 2018 election cycle, billionaires gave $611 million, up from $17 million in 2008, according to the report from Americans for Tax Fairness and The Institute for Policy Studies, two self-described “progressive” research organizations.

The study attributes the exponential growth to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed companies and outside groups to make unlimited donations.

The study also showed that just a handful of big-spenders are responsible for nearly two-thirds of political contributions from billionaires over the last three decades as they become increasingly involved in elections.

From 1990 through this May, just 20 people made $1.3 billion worth of political donations, nearly 62% of all contributions from billionaires in that period, the study shows.

The biggest spenders were Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, casino magnates who favor Republicans, at $308 million; Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager who backs Democrats and liberal causes, at $275 million; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given to both, at $181 million.

The totals do not include Steyer and Bloomberg’s unsuccessful campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. In that primary, Steyer spent $340 million and Bloomberg spent more than $1 billion.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

The rest of the top 20 included hedge fund managers James Simons, George Soros, Paul Singer, and Ken Griffin; investors Stephen Schwartman and Warren Stephens; Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

Giving by billionaires was relatively modest until 2012, when contributions jumped to $233 from $32 million in 2010, the study says.

And Citizens United has increased the portion of all political giving that comes from the richest Americans. In 2008, donations from billionaires were less than 1% of all political contributions, but by 2018 they made up nearly 10%, the study found. Final numbers for 2020 weren’t available because most giving will occur during the second half of the year, the study says.

“Billionaires have an outsized influence on our economy, politics and society,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness.

Both parties have benefited from the flood of contributions from billionaires.

The study showed that billionaires gave more than twice as much to Republicans in the 2012 election, but just 20% more to the GOP in the 2016 election, and slightly more to Democrats in the 2018 midterms.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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