Top 12 political donors accounted for almost 1 of every 13 dollars raised since 2009: study

A dozen top megadonors have pumped a combined $3.4 billion dollars into federal elections since 2009, according to new research, a massive sum that made up almost one out of every 13 dollars raised during that time period.

The analysis, put out this month by Issue One, a nonpartisan group working to curtail the influence of money in politics, shows that the top 12 big-dollar donors were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Issue One says the research underscores the flood of money that federal races have seen since restrictions were lifted by the Supreme Court in 2009. 

The study also found that the big-money contributions were geographically concentrated. The top 100 zip codes for political giving accounted for less than 1 percent of the country's population but about 20 percent of federal donations from January 2009 to December 2020.

"This research shows the alarming influence of just a handful of wealthy megadonors in our political system," said Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman. "Our government can't be responsive to all Americans if our elected officials are beholden to the elite donor class." 

The study found that the biggest donor was former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent $1.4 billion. More than $1 billion of that went to his failed 2020 presidential campaign, while the remaining $314 million went to a slate of candidates and other groups involved in federal races.

Tom Steyer, another failed 2020 Democratic presidential contender, gave the second most money along with his wife, together spending $653 million. About $342 million of that went to his presidential bid.

The late GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam were the third biggest donors overall, and the largest for Republicans. Combined they spent $523 million on federal races.

The advocacy group said the study underscores the need for congressional action to curtail the ability of donors to pump unrestricted amounts of money into federal races.

"Americans are losing faith in our democratic institutions. They see political gridlock and a broken campaign finance system that gives undue influence to billionaires and millionaires across the political spectrum, while the vast majority of ordinary citizens lack a seat at the table. Congress must urgently act to restrain the growing influence of money in our politics and build a system that truly represents all Americans, not just the wealthy few," Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee said.

The Issue One report does not include any figures for state-level races or money given to nonprofit groups involved in any elections.