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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Billion Dollar Democracy Invites Abuse, Needs Reforms

It’s been widely reported that the 2012 national elections were the most expensive in history. For more revealing details about where the money came from and who got it, however, read “Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in the 2012 Elections” by Adam Lioz and Blair Bowie at Demos. Among their revelations:

Newly minted Super PACs dominated outside spending reported to the FEC, aggregating huge sums from millionaires and billionaires.
The top 32 Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined–that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200.
Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93% of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000–from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011% of the U.S. population.
It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.
Super PACs accounted for more than 60% of outside spending reported to the FEC.
For the 2012 cycle, Super PACs received more than 70% of their funds from individuals, and a significant percentage (12%) from for-profit businesses.

The authors have many more such nuggets addressing the edge provided incumbents and special interests and the role of secrecy in funding candidates. As for the reforms needed to restore fairness to the system, they conclude:

A campaign finance system that empowers average citizens–by providing incentives for small contributions and strictly limiting both contributions to candidates and outside spending, for example–can promote political equality, enable candidates and elected officials to spend more time reaching out to a broad range of constituents, and better align policy outcomes with public preferences…

You can download the entire report (pdf) right here.

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