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Billionaires have an increasingly outsized role in funding U.S. elections, overwhelmingly favoring Republicans over Democrats with their largesse, according to a new report from advocacy groups that favor higher taxes on the wealthy.
The report, “Billionaires Buying Elections,” was produced by the group Americans for Tax Fairness. It looks at contributions to Republican and Democratic super PACs that focus on campaigns for the U.S. House and Senate.
In the first 16 months of the 2022 election cycle, 27 ultra-wealthy individuals contributed $89.4 million to the two largest Republican congressional super PACs — nearly half of the $188.3 million that they collected.
On the other side of the aisle, 19 billionaires accounted for about 17% of the $154 million that went to the two largest Democratic congressional super PACs, according to the report.
“The nation’s roughly 750 billionaires are increasingly using their personal fortunes and the profits of connected corporations to drown out regular voters’ voices and elect hand-picked candidates who further rig the nation’s economy,” the report declares.
Candidates who have benefited include several who have tried to undermine the 2020 election results, according to the report.
Since the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, “corporations and industry-group PACs have given more than $34 million to 144 members of Congress who voted to overturn the legitimate election of Joe Biden” as president, the report states. Those donors “included many firms that in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot had pledged not to give any money to the ‘insurrection caucus.’”
Although Wisconsin billionaires don’t make the national lists in the report, Citizen Action of Wisconsin singles out one, Diane Hendricks of Beloit, for playing a similar role. Citizen Action joined the release of the Americans for Tax Fairness report along with the group Health Care for America Now.
The report ties the increased influence of billionaire donors to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that removed limits on corporate campaign spending. “Billionaires pumped $1.2 billion into the 2020 elections, almost 40 times more than the $31 million they donated in 2010,” the report states.
The publicly available figures on which the report is based “probably significantly understate billionaire dominance of campaign financing, especially on the Republican side,” the report states.
Missing are contributions from corporations and billionaires to so-called “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose the identities of donors. Those groups in turn make donations to the congressional super PACs.
The 27 billionaires who gave to the GOP have grown wealthier with the arrival of COVID-19. In the first two years of the pandemic, according to the report, their collective net worth rose by 57% — a gain of $82.4 billion.
The $89.4 million they gave to congressional super PACs totals slightly more than 0.1% of that increase. The report describes that as “a small investment that could save them billions of dollars by electing Republicans who will oppose tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations.”
The report calls for campaign finance reform, including abolishing super PACs, in the long term. In the meantime, it advocates higher taxes at the top of the income ladder that could be used to address the cost of health care, child care and education as well as to address climate change. One such proposal in Congress would tax the increased value of assets held by the wealthiest without waiting for those assets to be sold.
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