Money and politics go hand in hand, especially when it comes to the election races for Congress and the Presidency. Candidates running for election to the House, the Senate, and even the Oval Office itself often meet with rich donors, wooing and courting them for the large donations that will get their campaign up and running. The Koch brothers, for example, are well known and generous funders of the Republican party, with motives that have been cited as questionable by those who campaign against monetized politics, like the Wolf Pac group.
Political fundraising is a glamorous business, with events typically featuring champagne aboard luxury yachts, small intimate dinners with the candidates, or even promises of future political appointments. In U.S. politics these days, it’s all about wining, dining, and convincing those with the money to help with an election campaign.
Campaign finance and campaign finance reform are hot topics. Campaign financing is a complex and sometimes shadowy venture as people funnel through countless thousands – sometimes even millions – of dollars through various PAC’s, SuperPAC’s, or a hundred other organizations with the sole focus of getting their candidate elected. Critics of current campaign finance laws assert that America’s very democracy is up for sale, and that only the wealthy have a voice in the government. Still others believe that campaign donations are free speech, protected by the First Amendment, and that people should be allowed to donate to their preferred candidates free and unfettered.
For now, at least, there are laws in place that lay out what is and isn’t legal in terms of political donations – though even those are filled with loopholes Given the current legality of political donations, let’s take a look at some of the bigger contributors to political candidates in recent years, to see how much of and where their money was spent.
10. Edmund III and Beatriz Schweitzer – $257,200
Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer from Pullman, Washington donated a total of $257,200 to the Republican party. Edmund is an electrical engineer, inventor, and founder of the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories who is credited with transforming the operation of the electric power grid. The couple donated to both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger’s reelection campaign. McMorris is supported by both House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner.
9. Muneer Satter and Kristen Hertel – $262,600
Managing partner of Goldman Sachs Muneer Satter and his wife, Kristen Hertel, initially donated money to Obama’s campaign in 2008, and also supported former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral election in Chicago. But for the most part, this couple primarily donated to the Republican party. And in the 2012 election, Satter backed Republican nominee Mitt Romney by serving as co-chair of the candidate’s finance committee while also donating $500,000 to the Super PAC supporting Romney’s run. In 2012, Satter and Hertel made the list of top donors, with all of their contributions going toward the Republican party.
8. William and Joanne Edwards – $270,000
The couple from Treasure Island, Florida has donated $270,000 to the Republican party so far in 2014. While most Hollywood money seemingly tends to go to the Democrats, this music producer and his wife stay true to the Republican party. Though not all of their money is made from music, Bill Edwards also owns a mortgage company, two Treasure Island hotels, the Garden restaurant, and the Club at Treasure Island.
7. Jeffrey Abrams and Kathleen McGrath – $273,800
Jeffrey Abrams is probably better known as J. J. Abrams, an American film and television producer, screenwriter, director, actor and composer. Most people know him from movies like the newest Star Trek films, Super 8, Mission Impossible, but he is also for shows like Fringe, Person of Interest, and Alias, among others. Abrams, and his wife Katie, are some of the biggest political donors in Hollywood, and as with many in Hollywood, he pledges his money to the Democratic party. Through their donations, they supported the Democratic National Committee, Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s re-election effort, Newark Mayor Corey Booker’s race for the U.S senate, and Alaskan Senator Mark Begich’s re-election campaign.
6. Scott and Donya Bommer – $274,400
Scott Bommer is the founder and CEO of SAB Capital Management, a New York hedge fund. Scott is known for paying a record-breaking $46 million for a co-op apartment in New York City and then flipping it six months later for even more dough. He and his wife, Donya, are also well known for supporting the Republican party. In many cases, her donations match his. They’ve donated to the Republican National Committee, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Donya also gives four-figure donations to Republican congressional candidates. While they stay mostly faithful to the conservative side of politics, both donated the maximum amount to Democratic Senator Cory Booker’s campaign.
5. Sean Parker – $318,400
Billionaire Sean Parker has, in the past, primarily donated his money to the Democratic party, though that appears to be changing. The entrepreneur who co-founded Napster and the former Facebook president is reportedly giving money to both parties this year. In the past, he’s given over a million dollars to the Mark Zuckerberg-backed immigration reform group, FWD.us, and he gave a quarter million dollars to the gun control group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D). He’s also donated to Cory Booker, Jerry Brown, Rahm Emanuel, and was the single largest donor to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe last year. But in addition to the Democratic candidates he’d supported, he also donated to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) when he was fighting for immigration reform in the Senate. And the ratio of Democratic-Republican donations might be changing, as he’s spoken to politicians on both sides of the aisle in recent months. His main agenda is to make democracy more modern and less corrupt, while his areas of interest are immigration reform, urban development, and medical research.
4. Howard and Susan Groff – $359,000
Howard and Susan Groff of Northridge, California were one of the top contributors for the 2012 election. The couple own Northwest Excavating, a construction equipment rental and digging company and they contribute heavily to the Republican party and have done so since the mid-2000s. As mentioned above, they donated a large amount of money during the 2012 election cycle, and that money ($100,000 of it) went to Restore Our Future, a super PAC created to support Mitt Romney’s campaign.
3. John III and Barbara Nau – $416,300
John Nau is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Silver Eagle Distributors, L.P, the United State’s largest distribution of Anheuser-Busch products. In addition to that, Silver Eagle also distributes microbrews, craft beers, and non-alcoholic beverages and water. John and his wife, Barbara, reside in Houston, Texas, where Nau has been a major contributor to the Republican party, especially in the state of Texas. He’s served as the national finance chairman for Texas Senator John Cornyn, and he’s a major contributor to American Crossroads and to the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott.
2. Jonathan and Jennifer Allan Soros – $1,074,600
The son of liberal billionaire George Soros, Jonathan Soros, is dedicated to getting money out of politics – and he’s seeking to go about doing just that by fighting fire with fire. Yes, he’s the first to admit the irony of it all, but he’s a realist who understands that the only way to get through to politicians is in their pocketbook. And Soros is ready to spend his own millions to support candidates that he hopes will reform the system and stop giving so much power to people like him – the ultra wealthy. He created the Super PAC to end all Super PACS called Friends of Democracy. He plans on using the money he raises to run negative ads aimed at politicians who oppose campaign finance reform and who have not been supportive of “citizen-led” elections. The PAC will also pick a handful of candidates who’ve supported campaign finance reform who will receive direct contributions to reward them for their positions.
1. Robert Perry – $2,020,800
Robert Perry, owner of Perry Homes, may have passed away in 2013 at the age of 80, but he left a legacy of political donations in his wake. Perry was a backer of the Republican party who made his first contribution to Arizona Senator John McCain for the 2008 election. Several years later He became the third-biggest political contributor of 2012, giving $23,450,000 through various PAC’s and SuperPAc’s to support Mitt Romney, $70,000 to Tim Pawlenty and $100,000 to the pro-Rick Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again. However, when Rick Perry announced that he was entering the presidential race, Robert Perry was somewhat surprisingly not one of the top contributors to his campaign. Robert Perry was the largest single donor to the GOP in Texas, which considering the size and the conservative nature of the state, says a lot. But even before the 2000’s, Perry contributed to the gubernatorial races of former President George W. Bush. He also donated to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign which was created to upend Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry.