Led by Mega-Donors, Wall Street Is Crushing Previous Records for Outside Political Spending

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Led by Mega-Donors, Wall Street Is Crushing Previous Records for Outside Political Spending

Financial Sector Accounts for More Than Half of All Money Given By Donors Contributing $1 Million or More to Presidential Super PACs

WASHINGTON - The financial services sector is on pace to obliterate its records for political spending this election cycle, led by a select group of donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs devoted to presidential candidates, according to a new report (PDF) by Public Citizen.

Employees and businesses in the finance, insurance and real estate sector already had given more to outside groups by the end of March than during any entire election cycle in history, according to the report, “Doubling Down,” which uses data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission. The securities and investment industry, a subset of the finance sector that includes hedge funds and private equity funds, also has given more to outside groups than in any full election cycle.

“This pace of giving is particularly remarkable for two reasons,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “First, the financial sector and securities industry already were the biggest donors in every election cycle on record. Second, they set these records without supporting two of the three remaining candidates.”

Public Citizen examined donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs devoted to the presidential candidates and found that: 1) About 100 individuals and businesses have contributed more than 60 percent of money to presidential super PACs, even though they account for fewer than 4 percent of donors; and 2) The financial services sector accounts for more than half of the money given by these million dollar-plus donors.

In 2012, the financial sector accounted for 22.5 percent of reported giving to outside groups, which was the highest share of any sector. So far in the 2016 cycle, the financial sector has accounted for 44.2 percent of giving to outside groups, Public Citizen found.

“Voters clearly are outraged at business as usual this election cycle, and Wall Street is one of the chief sources of their anger,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Spending on this year’s election represents a collision between one sector’s extraordinary resources and voters’ outrage over that sector’s outsized influence.”

The report is the second in Public Citizen’s “Promoting a Transparent and Democratic Transition Series,” which admonishes candidates to conduct their transition planning in accordance with democratic values, which should include selecting personnel based solely on merit.

“History has shown that donors make up a vastly disproportionate share of winning presidential candidates’ transition teams,” said Heath Brown, assistant professor of public policy at the City University of New York and an expert on presidential transitions. Brown is a collaborator on Public Citizen’s transition series. “The post-Citizens United ability to give unlimited sums adds extra urgency to the need for candidates to give the public insight into this extremely important process.”

If Wall Street has sway in the next administration, it likely will continue to push its agenda of weakening and blocking rules stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act, which was designed to reduce the size of big banks and curb the kind of reckless behavior of banks that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

Read the report (PDF). Learn more about Public Citizen's "Promoting a Transparent and Democratic Transition Series."

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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