Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
The Occupy Wall Street protests have focused on bringing to light the effect on the American democracy of concentrated wealth. The self-proclaimed 99 percent point to the disproportional power and influence of those at the top one percent.
However, a new report from the Sunlight Foundation sheds light on an even more elite group of individuals within the top one percent. The Political One Percent of the One Percent details the enormous amount of money contributed to political campaigns and interest groups by the wealthiest of the wealthy.
According to the report, in the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. In comparison, President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign raised $778.6 million.
The Sunlight Foundation report notes that this has resulted in “a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves.” During the 2010 election cycle they contributed an average of $28,913 to political campaigns, more than the median individual income of $26,364.
The public interacts with their elected representatives through office staff and the occasional mailer, but the Political One Percent enjoy a closer relationship. The report says that “unlike the other 99.99% of Americans who do not make these contributions, these elite donors have unique access.”
Highlighted in the report as the most influential contributor of the Political One Percent is Texas homebuilder Bob Perry. The CEO of Perry Homes gave $7.3 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads during the 2010 election cycle. According to Federal Elections Commission (FEC) records Perry has contributed another $2.5 million to American Crossroads this year. In 2004 Perry gave $4.4 million to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, whose role in attacking Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry led to the political term “swift-boating.”
Not only is Perry the most influential of the Political One Percent in federal elections and national politics, but in Texas he is among the most generous contributors to political campaigns. According to Texas Ethics Commission records Perry has donated millions of dollars to political candidates and political action committees. Since 2001 Perry has contributed more than $3.2 million to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaigns. However, FEC records show that Perry has yet to contribute to Perry’s presidential campaign.
Mother Jones recently profiled an exclusive community in the Dallas metropolitan area that is home to some of the most generous donors to the Republican Party in Texas. The one percent enclave of Highland Park is among the zip codes that have donated the most money to candidates and political parties in the 2010 election cycle. The $2.4 million contributed is the fourth highest total from one zip code, and the 77 percent that went to Republican candidates is the highest ratio in the nation.
Robert Rowling, the CEO of TRT Holdings which owns Golds Gyms and Omni Hotels, is among the residents of Highland Park. As the fourth most influential of the Political One Percent, the report notes that, like Perry, Rowling was a generous contributor to American Crossroads. During the 2010 election cycle Rowling gave $2.5 million to Rove’s political action committee.
Another resident of Highland Park, Harlan Crow, was listed in the report as the 302nd most influential of the Political One Percent. In the 2010 election cycle Crow gave $141,800 to political campaigns. According to reporting by Politico, Crow donated $500,000 to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia as seed money to form the consulting firm and political activist organization Liberty Consulting.
As the Republican presidential primaries begin next month, and the 2012 election season begins it is likely that the Political One Percent will have a significant impact. However, much of the contributions may end up being made to Super PACs, outside expenditure groups or other political organizations. While the narrative may be about the division between the 99 percent and the one percent, the Political One Percent will be the ones writing the checks.
Image: Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press