In Accessing Power, the Rich Are Different
The April 14 New York Times featured another lesson in the power of money in politics. Times reporters Mike McIntire and Michael Luo matched Obama campaign donor records with White House visitor logs and discovered -- surprise! -- that big donors get big access. In fact, about three quarters of those who donated $100,000 or more to Democratic coffers visited the White House, which is a markedly higher rate than that for the 310 million Americans who didn't make six-figure donations to the campaign.
Making it easy for political donors to access policy makers is an old, if often unpleasant, story. But the correlation between big donors and access to policy makers is especially striking in the case of President Barack Obama. No recent presidential nominee has been less dependent on big donors than Obama. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 45 percent his campaign funds through February 29 were contributed by small fry -- donors who gave $200 or less. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said that 567,000 people had contributed an average of $50.78 to the campaign last month.
By contrast, Mitt Romney has relied almost exclusively on big donations to his campaign and an allied super-PAC; only 10 percent of contributions to his campaign through February 29 were from small donors.
Obama's campaign is in a league of its own in winning support from small donors. But in determining who gains direct access to power, the Obama White House seems to works much like any other. Wealthy campaign contributors don't always get what they want. But whether they constitute one tenth or almost one half of a candidate's funding base, it seems they can always count on an open door to power.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)