By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With less than 100 days until the November midterm elections, updated federal campaign finance records show Democrats and liberals are way ahead of their Republican counterparts in receiving donations from large organizations.
That’s thanks in part to Citizens United, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that many on the political left say undermines democracy.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 16 of the top 20 contributors thus far in the 2013-14 election cycle gave almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and to liberal groups that support them. The three Republican-leaning organizations landing in the top 20 amounted to less than half of the overall top ranked donor, ActBlue.
ActBlue, a political action committee, gave more than $30 million to left-of-center politicos at various levels of government. Founded in 2004, ActBlue has the distinction of being the largest single source of political funding in the United States. Since 2013, all but $33,175 went to Democrats and liberals groups.
Second on the list is Fahr LLC, a global investment firm founded by billionaire hedge fund manager and “eco-activist” Tom Steyer. He made headlines earlier this year when he pledged $100 million to defeat candidates who he sees as obstacles to global warming legislation.
“Climate change belongs at the forefront of American politics. We’re working to put it there,” reads Steyer’s super PAC website, NextGenClimate.org.
Steyer’s hit list includes Florida Gov. Rick Scott, himself a multi-millionaire who spent lavishly on his own 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Steyer’s super PAC, NextGen Climate, has committed $750,000 to bag Scott, according to the Florida Division of Elections campaign finance database.
Steyer, a San Francisco-based billionaire, said recently he would spend as much as $10 million on the Florida election before November. So far, his super PAC has raised $20.3 million this cycle, and all but $210,000 were personal contributions, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
The largest group of top contributors is unions. They make up 11 of the top 20 organizations on the updated list, and include the National Education Association, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers. Together they funded Democrats and liberals over Republicans by a ratio of 27 to 1.
That advantage comes in part to the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, a 5-4 decision with Republican-appointed justices making up the majority. The ruling, based on free speech principles, held that the government cannot restrict political expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.
Some Democrats, like South Florida congressman Ted Deutch, publicly decry the ruling even as Democrats seem to be overwhelmingly benefiting from it.
“Our electoral democracy is based on the premise that at (sic) the voice of a billionaire is worth no more than that of a school teacher,” Deutch said in a July 15 statement. “Unfortunately, Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have contributed to a dysfunctional environment where the opinions of everyday Americans go unheard and special interests can easily override the will of the people.”
Deutch is cosponsoring a constitutional amendment, called Democracy for All, that would effectively overturn Citizens United for giving “corporations and the wealthiest donors” the ability to make unlimited political contributions. In his statement, Deutch doesn’t mention labor unions.
Right-leaning organizations on the list were mostly private companies, with top contributors including Elliot Management, Uline Inc., Renaissance Technologies, AT&T and Perry Homes. Many others, such as Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, gave to both sides but more to Republicans.
The much-maligned Koch Industries ranked 36th out of 50, and gave $2.6 million to Republican candidates and conservative groups while contributing only $38,750 to Democrats and left-leaning groups. But the billionaire Koch brothers do not report other fundraising efforts with respect to super PACs. The same is true for liberal billionaire George Soros and some others, making the disclosure list partially incomplete.
The totals reflected are derived from donations from employees of the organization, its political action committee and in some cases its own treasury, according to CRP.