“Fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era,” the New York Timesbreathlessly reported last Sunday. The popularity of so-called Super PACs, which can raise unlimited funds, has allowed the wealthy to dominate the fundraising scene. “The intensifying reliance on big money in politics mirrors the concentration of American wealth more broadly.” Democracy, we are meant to believe, is at stake.
Drawing a connection between Republican dominance in high-dollar giving and the apparent increase in income inequality is a fashionable political and journalistic trend—one that makes no sense. Liberal economists say inequality has been growing for decades, as Democrats alternated control of Congress and the presidency with Republicans and often enjoyed a big-money advantage. I don’t recall the Times fretting during the 1990s, when Hillary Clinton’s husband deregulated Wall Street and the Democratic Party was rolling, sometimes drowning, in cash.
Then, in 2004, a small group of extremely wealthy people decided to influence the political process. They devised their plan at a secret gathering in the Hamptons, where they began issuing seven-figure checks to organizations devoted to an ideological agenda and the overthrow of a president who, at the time, was still relatively popular. These donors had grown rich off Wall Street investments, off selling insurance and subprime mortgages—classic liberal bugaboos. And they stood to profit from the increased access and favorable policies they would enjoy if their preferred candidates won the election.