D.C. politicians are funded by donors who are whiter and wealthier than the constituents they serve, an analysis by the liberal think tank Demos found.
While white residents make up 37 percent of the District population, they represented more than two-thirds of donors to D.C. Council candidates between 2012 and March 2016, the report says.
And about 60 percent of campaign donors in that time period had annual incomes higher than $100,000. Just a quarter of District residents earn that much money.
While it comes as no surprise that wealthy people are more inclined to spend on political races, the Demos analysis is the first comprehensive look at the demographics of District campaign contributors in recent years. Analysts matched campaign donors to a voter database used by Democrats that includes race, gender and income.
Demos examined the 2014 mayoral race, which was characterized by an unusual level of fundraising because of hotly contested primary and general elections. Muriel E. Bowser unseated incumbent Vincent C. Gray in the Democratic primary and went onto defeat independent David Catania.
The analysis only examined individual donors, not the corporate donations that have frequently drawn accusations from critics of pay-to-play politics.
Bowser raised $2,115,335 in donations, 69 percent from donors who gave more than $1,000. Catania collected $845,881, of which 59 percent came from large donors. And Gray raised $774, 996, with 71 percent of it from large donors. In total, donors giving more than $1,000 accounted for 67 percent of all money raised by the three candidates in 2014. Small
donors giving $50 or less accounted for less than 2 percent.
Of the three candidates examined, Catania had the highest share of white donors at 81 percent.
More than half of Gray and Bowser’s donors were white, even though each had a political base of mostly black supporters.
Nearly a quarter of Bowser’s donors reported income of less than $60,000, a bigger share than her rivals. Women also made up nearly half of the donors to the first female mayor in 20 years, and were just under 40 percent of Gray and Catania’s financial backers.
All candidates filled their coffers with disproportionately high numbers of high-income donors.
“The fact that big donors—overwhelmingly white, male and high-income—hold such outsized influence in a city that is extremely diverse both demographically and economically is deeply problematic,” the Demos report said.
John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff, dismissed suggestions that the rich have out-sized influence with the Bowser administration.
“If you look at the mayor’s record on what she has done as mayor, she has focused on raising the minimum wage, investing in affordable housing, education and homeless services, which is clearly an agenda that focuses on creating more pathways to the middle class,” said Falcicchio.
The Council is also weighing the nation’s most ambitious paid family leave mandate and requiring national chains to give two weeks notice to employees regarding their work schedules.
But this week, the council rejected a proposal from Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to bar contributors from receiving city contracts valued at greater than $100,000 for one year after donating to a campaign.
Demos highlighted its findings to push for public financing that would encourage more small donations, noting that such giving comes from a more diverse pool.
Some political observers say the disparities in the Demos report reflects the city’s income disparities between whites and African-Americans.
“The impacts of the wealth gap can be found in nearly every economic sphere, including in political contributions,” said Chuck Thies, who managed Gray’s unsuccessful mayoral re-election campaign in 2014.
While the Demos analysis describes disparities by comparing donor demographics to the population of the District, it found 32 percent of donors live elsewhere, including Maryland and Virginia.