Who are the top donors to political parties? And which political parties are the recipients? There is an eye-opening list of the top 156 donors between the years 1989 and 2014. For all the rhetoric about Republicans being the party of “big business” and “cronyism,” it is interesting to see that the majority of the top 20 donors gave heavily to Democrats. Or, as economist Mark Perry put it, “Combined the 18 labor unions donated more than $35 for every $1 donated by Koch Industries, $640 million vs. $18 million.”
Check it out.
13 thoughts on “Top All-Time Political Donors, 1989-2014”
Every business in the top 20 donors favors Republicans in its donations. Reporting the result this way is no more manipulative than the graph comparing Koch Industries (which does not account for the totality of the Koch’s political activity) with 18 unions representing millions of people.
Republicans have historically been more pro-business, while Democrats have been more pro-labor, and nothing in this donor list changes that narrative in any way. If the point is that we should amend the constitution to allow us to get money out of politics so our representatives will be less subject to corrupting influences, I’m totally on board with that. If, instead, the claim is that we should elect Republicans because they aren’t as corrupt as Democrats and they’ll shrink the government, making crony capitalism less rewarding, the gentle way of describing that inference is that it goes beyond the available data.
“Every business in the top 20 donors favors Republicans in its donations.”
I included “cronyism” in my description because often that is what is meant when someone states that a party supports “big business” i.e. the rich and powerful. These various organizations are rich and powerful, whether they are labeled “business” or “labor.”
“…no more manipulative than the graph…”
The point of Perry’s graph was that everyone worries about “big business” and their contributions, but make little noise regarding other powerful organizations who may not find themselves labeled with the word “business” (such a dirty word…).
“…18 unions representing millions of people.”
Businesses employ millions of people too.
“Republicans have historically been more pro-business, while Democrats have been more pro-labor…”
Yet, both these businesses and labor organizations are well-funded, powerful, and politically connected. Doesn’t matter how you want to label them. The narrative as I often hear it is that Republicans are always in bed with these powerful corporations. Fine. What gets left out is that Democrats are in bed with different powerful organizations, which (according to the list) tend to donate *more* money than the evil corporations. The chart and list are mainly for some perspective.
“…I’m totally on board with that.”
Fair enough. I mainly posted it because I thought it was interesting and thought others might find it interesting. As I said above, perspective.
“…that inference is that it goes beyond the available data.”
I agree. But perhaps people will note the corrupting influence on government *as a whole* instead of just being total partisans. I doubt it, but I can dream.
I generally find the idea of being deceptive in order to balance out the deceptions of others distasteful. If you actually think that both parties are equally corrupt, citing evidence which makes them look very different treats your audience as though they can’t be trusted with the whole truth.
Moreover, you’re drawing some false equivalences. Employing people is different from representing them–often, the policies for which corporations lobby are those which allow them to put the interests of those who control the lobbying dollars over those of the lower-level workers. Similarly, the claim that the GOP is the party of the rich and powerful is about reinforcing existing power differentials, rather than helping to redress existing imbalances. Supporting policies which cause investors and CEOs to donate heavily generally does this, while supporting those which cause one to receive donations from unions generally does not. To suggest that it’s the same thing is to miss the point of the criticism entirely.
Personally, I think it’s a nearly bankrupt criticism. Few of the policies of the Democratic Party actually advance the interests of the powerless any more than the policies of the Republican Party.
“…being deceptive …”
Explain how it is deceptive to say that I find it interesting that the majority of the top 20 donors gave to Democrats even though Republicans are often the ones associated with cronyism.
What exactly is deceptive about that?
“…treats your audience as though they can’t be trusted with the whole truth.”
I link to the entire chart and encourage readers to “Check it out.” Hard to be more open than that.
“Employing people is different from representing them…”
I agree. I think employment is often more important.
“…interests of those who control the lobbying dollars over those of the lower-level workers.”
I think this actually assumes a great deal about the motivations of modern labor unions, but that’s me.
“Personally, I think it’s a nearly bankrupt criticism.”
It wasn’t much of a criticism to begin with, but an observation. But if you think noting that political parties receive large donations from powerful organizations is “bankrupt,” so be it. I won’t lose sleep over it.
The idea that businesses do not respond to the interests of large numbers of people, but that labor does isn’t common sense or objective fact. It is actually just your political bias. In other words: what you argues is deceipt is in fact simple, honest, and straightfoward disagreement. There’s really no excuse for alleging dishonesty and using words like “distasteful” just because someone’s view of the world challenges your own.
In simple terms, a capitalist business must respond to the will of the people even moreso than a democratic institution (like a government or a labor union) because it relies on people willingly handing over money. If the company doesn’t serve people, it goes out of business.
A union, by contrast, is at least partially non-voluntary. When I was a student instructor at Michigan I had the right to join the union or not, but I didn’t have the right to contribute my money to them or not. Regardless of what I thought of the union, money came out of my paycheck to pay my dues without my consent or agreement. This, by the way, is why unions only exist because of exceptions in racketeering laws: it’s not exactly a typical voluntary relationship for someone to be able to garnish your wages to lobby for political causes that you might happen to oppose.
I get the romantic fantasy that unions are of of the people, by the people, and for the people and all that, but the reality is that union decision making doesn’t seem to have helped Detroit out a whole lot, and that’s probably why workers in North Carolina rejected the UAW’s attempt to unionize a VW plant (even though VW was on board with the plan).
You are of course entitled to your belief in unions, but you shouldn’t expect everyone else to have to take your ideological axioms as objective fact, nor should you be so quick to start insulting people just because they don’t accept your assumptions.
Oh, I should also mention that my discussion was of businesses in a capitalist setting where all transactions are voluntary. Another major confusion for folks is the fact that there’s a difference between a free market and crony capitalism, which is to a large extent what we have in the US today.
Defending capitalism isn’t the same as defending big business.
For more on labor unions, see Morgan Reynolds’ ‘Power and Privilege: Labor Unions in America’.
Perhaps suggesting a whole book is a bit much. How about just Reynolds’ article on “Labor Unions” in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/LaborUnions.html
“For more than a century now, labor unions have been celebrated in folk songs and popular myth as fearless champions of the downtrodden working man, while “the bosses” are depicted as coldhearted exploiters of employees. But from the standpoint of economists—including many who are avowedly pro-union—unions are simply cartels that raise wages above competitive levels by capturing monopolies over who companies can hire and what they must pay. Many unions have won higher wages and better working conditions for their members. In doing so, however, they have reduced the number of jobs available. That second effect is because of the basic law of demand: if unions successfully raise the price of labor, employers will purchase less of it. Thus, unions are the major anticompetitive force in labor markets. Their gains come at the expense of consumers, nonunion workers, the jobless, and owners of corporations.”
I apologize for my unclarity: the criticism I regard as nearly bankrupt is the criticism of the GOP on the basis of their support for the rich and powerful. I think the Democrats also support the rich and powerful to an almost equal degree. Similarly, this criticism rests on the premise that unions are better for the poor and middle-class than corporations. As has been pointed out, that’s a problematic case to make. But that doesn’t mean that taking money from unions is relevantly similar to taking money from CEOs and investors, which seemed to be Walker’s suggestion.
As for what’s deceptive, look at the chart posted and the facts highlighted in the original piece. Both make the Democrats appear radically worse than Republicans. The reason I chose to describe this as deceptive rather than dishonest is that it doesn’t seem like a lie, it just seems like a deliberate choice to highlight only some truths in order to bring about a particular impression in the readers’ minds. I can accept that this is an attempt to correct a perceived partisan bias (“But perhaps people will note the corrupting influence on government *as a whole* instead of just being total partisans.”), and that strikes me as a noble goal. But if the aim is to note the corrupting influence on government as a whole, presenting only evidence of the corrupting influence on Democrats is deceptive.
“I apologize for my unclarity…”
Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying.
“But that doesn’t mean that taking money from unions is relevantly similar to taking money from CEOs and investors…”
They don’t have the same goals, no. But I don’t think that means that they are relevantly dissimilar.
“…presenting only evidence of the corrupting influence on Democrats is deceptive.”
The more you comment, the further away you get from what I actually say in my post. What I highlighted in the OP:
– Here are the top political donors of the past 20+ years.
– The majority of the top 20 donors lean Democrat, which (in my view) goes against the typical narrative of Republicans being the main party of cronyism.
– Even the much-hated Koch Industries gave less than the labor unions.
That’s it. I link to the donor list in the OP. I’m not hiding anything. I end the very, very short post by encouraging people to read the list for themselves. Your original comment now seems like a knee-jerk reaction because you think it makes Democrats look “radically worse than Republicans.” Radically worse at what? In general? At receiving donations? What?
When it came to top donors, Democrats were largely the recipients. It is what it is. This factor isn’t the end all, be all of political debates.
Cronyism is a form of corruption, and you’ve implied that it is related to political donations. You didn’t actually present the list of donors, only linked it elsewhere, so you seem to admit that the only two pieces of evidence you highlighted made the Democrats appear to receive more donations (thus more corrupting influence) than Republicans. Both of these are consistent with various actual versions of the accusation that the GOP is the party of the rich and powerful (a problematic accusation for other reasons), but you presented that evidence as “interesting” in the context of your oversimplification of those accusations.
What I’ve found so impressive about Difficult Run is that it often presents a conservative view which takes the liberal position seriously. This piece didn’t.
“You didn’t actually present the list of donors, only linked it elsewhere…”
Right. We have long, original pieces. And then we have shorter ones, mainly for links and brief commentary. I also did a “50 Reasons…” piece a little while ago and only listed a few before linking elsewhere. This entire piece was a plug for the link. Hence, “Check it out” at the very end.
This seems to be more of a complaint that I didn’t highlight all the things you would highlight from the donor list. I mean, part of your critique is that I didn’t *copy-and-paste* the list in the post itself, even though I link it to it and encourage people to check it out. Really? Complaining that the things I noticed make Democrats look “radically worse” and declaring my approach an “oversimplification” and “deceptive” isn’t really an argument. After reviewing the list, did you find something I said that was incorrect? If so, point it out. I can take an evidence-based correction. But this just sounds more and more that you don’t like what I found so you declare it “deceptive.”
I’ll fully admit that I may be completely misunderstanding what your position is. It happens. But I’m really not getting it if there is a substantial point. If all you’re saying is that political donations are not the only thing that make up cronyism (and thus we should be careful not to wrap up an argument based on them solely), OK. But I’m straining to piece that together from your fairly hostile comments.
“What I’ve found so impressive about Difficult Run is that it often presents a conservative view which takes the liberal position seriously.”
I’ll take that as a compliment, given that I author a lot of the posts here.
“This piece didn’t.”
Well, can’t win them all. ;-)
Happy to have you as a reader. And I personally hope we didn’t lose you over this one post.
In retrospect, I neglected a valuable consequence of the presentation. Sure, your only illustration was a particularly daft, egregiously partisan comparison, but if that caused people looking for Republican talking points to go and check out the actual data, that’s excellent.
As for the compliment, you deserve it. I really do appreciate the writing here, and have offered my criticisms as a way of encouraging it to continue to improve, not to try and dissuade anyone from contributing nor to simply push my policy preferences.
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