The New Gilded Age
• Apr 20, 2016
The Washington Post By Matea Gold & Anu Narayanswamy
A small core of super-rich individuals is responsible for the record sums cascading into the coffers of super PACs for the 2016 elections, a dynamic that harks back to the financing of presidential campaigns in the Gilded Age.
Close to half the money — 41 percent — raised by the groups by the end of February came from just 50 mega-donors and their relatives, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance reports. Thirty-six of those are Republican supporters who have invested millions in trying to shape the GOP nomination contest — accounting for more than 70 percent of the money from the top 50.
In all, donors this cycle have given more than $607 million to 2,300 super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations. That means super PAC money is on track to surpass the $828 million that the Center for Responsive Politics found was raised by such groups for the 2012 elections.
The staggering amounts reflect how super PACs have become fundraising powerhouses just six years after they came on the scene. The concentration of fundraising power carries echoes of the end of the 19th century, when wealthy interests spent millions to help put former Ohio governor William McKinley in the White House.
Despite the mixed impact that big-money groups have had on the presidential contest so far, donors on both sides of the aisle are expected to shell out hundreds of millions more to such entities before the November elections.
“We’re going to save firepower for whoever the Republican nominee is,” said Dallas investor Doug Deason, whose father, billionaire technology entrepreneur Darwin Deason, is financing super PACs supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).
Wealthy patrons also are turning their attention to congressional races. Already, more than two dozen super PACs each backing a single House or Senate candidate have emerged.
The biggest surge of cash is likely to come this fall, when millionaires and billionaires aligned with both parties fully engage in the fights for control of the White House and Congress.