How 31,385 people fund national elections

June 28, 2013

Everyone knows that a relatively small number of wealthy people donate the lion's share of money to political campaigns.  But, you probably never suspected just how small that group actually is.

Thanks to the amazing Sunlight Foundation, we now know that just 31,385 people -- one tenth of one percent of the overall U.S. population -- are responsible for nearly 30 percent of the $6 billion (yes, billion with a "b") contributed to federal campaigns and committees in the 2012 election.

While the numbers are mind-boggling, one of the charts that Sunlight built to visualize them is even more telling.

It shows that the 31,385 people who qualify as the one percent of the one percent of political donors wouldn't even come close to filling a football stadium. And, their seats would cost a minimum of $12,950, the smallest contribution amount of any of the one-tenth-of-one-percenters.


Image courtesy of Sunlight Foundation

Those numbers are even more remarkable when you consider that while they do include donations to super PACs, they do not include donations to non-profit groups like Americans for Prosperity or Crossroads GPS that are heavily involved in campaigns.

Who are these one percent of the one percenters? Writes Sunlight's Lee Drutman:

"The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans. They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States."

The full Sunlight report is fascinating and chock full of great charts that illustrate the one percent of the one percent. Check it out.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · June 28, 2013