One of the more persistent myths of modern politics is that Democrats are swimming against a torrent of money supporting Republicans. In the media narrative, nefarious business and monied interests subvert the democratic process by deploying millions against Democrats progressives.
The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which reinforced the precedent that money is speech, spawned hand-wringing across the left media. The decision, though, merely leveled the political funding playing ground. Democrats are now publicly embracing the SuperPacs born of the decision; not to catch up with Republicans, but to maintain their funding edge.
Since 1989, 7 of the top 10 contributors to political campaigns have been Democrat or left-leaning, primarily labor unions. The other three split their contributions almost evenly between the parties. The top donor favoring Republicans, UPS, ranked 17th on the contributions list. Among the top 20 donors, 13 are explicitly Democrat or progressive.
Democrats receive an enormous advantage because their union allies can extract money from members’ paychecks to make donations and support outside spending. Businesses have to actively solicit campaign donations from their employees. It is no surprise, then, that 12 of the top 20 political donors over the last few decades have been labor unions.
Until the Citizens United decision, wealthy individuals were greatly limited in how much they could spend to support any specific campaign. After the landmark ruling, individuals were able to donate unlimited amounts of money, even if it only supported one candidate. In the 2010 elections, conservatives had a temporary edge in SuperPac spending. Six of the top 10 SuperPacs were conservative. Keep in mind, progressives maintained their edge in all other campaign spending.
Now, wealthy progressives are stepping up to form SuperPacs, extending the left’s financial advantage to these now political entities. Leftist billionaire Tom Steyer is pledging to spend $100 million on the climate change issue in the midterms. For the 2014 elections, six of the top 10 spending SuperPacs, so far, are left-leaning. Three of the top 4 conservatives PACs are dedicated to specific candidates. In terms of amounts raised so far, the top 5 SuperPacs are left-leaning.
The left’s advantage on campaign spending is only a small part of the financial edge progressives hold in our political dialogue. Massive foundations like Ford and Robert Wood Johnson spending hundreds of millions a year promoting left causes and making the case for expanded government. This spending doesn’t explicitly influence an election, but it goes a long way toward setting the policy framework for elections.
Democrats are now publicly saying they are embracing SuperPacs, in order to counter an unfair financial advantage for conservatives. In reality, they are trying to extend the financial edge they have come to expect.