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Here is where billionaires are making their political donations

Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness Frank Clemente joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss how billionaires are spending more on political contributions.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: A new study from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies shows that the country's billionaires are spending more than ever on political contributions.

For more on this, we're joined now by Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. Frank, thanks so much for joining us today. According to the study, billionaires' spend leapt from $32 million in 2010 to $611 million in 2018. I mean, what is driving this increase?

FRANK CLEMENTE: Well, clearly, one factor is they're getting a lot richer. So they got a lot more money to spend. And there's a lot more billionaires now. Just in the last year, there's-- it went from 614 billionaires to 640.

But the big factor really is if you look at our data, is that 2010, the Supreme Court made the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for wealthy people and corporations to play a much bigger role in election campaigns. They're able to make unlimited contributions to third party organizations.

Some of them are shadowy. Some of them are disclosed where you can actually find out how much money is being contributed. And that is where this dramatic growth in campaign contributions occurred. Back in 2010 and earlier, billionaires were only contributing 1% of total federal campaign contributions.

Today, now, according to the data, it is 10%. So one in every $10 is coming from these extraordinarily rich people. And we're talking 600 people. Think about it. There's at least 1.5 million people contribute to federal elections every election cycle. And they're contributing at least $200 apiece.

It's going to be a hell of a lot more than 1 and 1/2 million people when you count the smaller dollar contributions, too. So these small number of folks are having extraordinary influence.

KRISTIN MYERS: So you just [AUDIO OUT] how much money is going into this. Do you know the country's biggest spenders, and how much are they spending?

FRANK CLEMENTE: Well, it's also-- the big spenders are also quite concentrated as well. You've got Sheldon Adelson. The top three are Sheldon Adelson, Tom Steyer. And we didn't count how much he spent on federal campaign, on his presidential run. Just, we have Tom Steyer. And then we have Michael Bloomberg.

Adelson was up over $300 million over the course of his political giving history. Steyer's about $200 million or so. Bloomberg is about $180 million. I mean, the analysis we have, this is all federal election campaign data. Those top three are contributing 1/3, essentially, of all contributions from billionaires.


FRANK CLEMENTE: And they're-- the top 20 billionaires, they're contributing 2/3 of all the contributions for billionaires. So it is-- the pyramid is very, very small at the top.

KRISTIN MYERS: So as you just mentioned those three, you've got two Democrats there, that one Republican. But as you're looking just broadly at that list, what is the spread there? Is it fairly even? Or is there one-- you know, Republicans are far more advantaged over Democrats or vice versa?

FRANK CLEMENTE: That was a surprise in the analysis we did. Our data goes back to 1990. We looked at it through 2020 cycle. In the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, remember, it was Mitt Romney, a millionaire, a multimillionaire, and Donald Trump in 2016, a billionaire.

Most of the contributions-- more of the contributions, more than a majority, went to those Republican candidates. A very healthy majority went to those two in the presidential cycle-- went to Republicans. In the off-year elections, actually, in 2018, billionaires gave more to Democrats. Not that much more, but more.

And so it's interesting. In some ways, they're becoming, I think, equal opportunity givers. And certainly if Democrats win the White House and if they win the Congress, both chambers, I'm sure that the billionaires are going to put more money towards Democrats. They like to place their bets on everybody.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, well, we'll have to leave that conversation there. Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, thanks for joining us today.

FRANK CLEMENTE: You bet. Take care.