The threat of super-rich self-interests

Apparently it was Karl Rove who said to the donors who supported the Romney campaign with huge blocks of cash, “without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.”  The “us” in that statement was the small number of superrich donors who forked over megabucks to defeat Obama.  While Obama’s donors were by comparison fairly modest, which is to say that the support for him came from a broad range of individuals, those for Romney, on the contrary, came in large part from a few superrich individuals, that is, from the upper 1%, even the upper .01%.  AlexanderAbad-Santos on Atlantic Wire has reported on the top donors to both sides.

The top donors for Romney were among the richest individuals in the world.  A Romney win would have been disastrous for the 99% of our country because as the new President he would have been indebted to a small number of individuals.  The presidency would be an instrument of the interests and outlooks of a tiny fraction of the population.  The United States of America would be a Banana Republic.  

And this could happen for little cost to those who are truly super-rich.  According to Abad-Santos the amounts given to Romney’s campaign by the largest donors were tiny fractions of their total worth: 
  • Sheldon Adelson, Owner of Las Vegas Sands, gave a mere .04% of his total wealth (i.e., between 70 and 100 million dollars);
  • Harold “The Ice Man” Simmons, owner of Contran Corp, a Dallas-based waste/chemical management company gave a mere .3 to .5% of his total wealth (30 to 50 million dollars);
  • The Koch Brothers – well, they could have given as much a $95 million but no one knows that actual total.  Most of it is hidden; Open Secrets say they can identify $36,637,591 given to conservative, essentially libertarian causes. 
The top donor to Obama, Jeffrey Katzenberg, gave peanuts by comparison: $2.566 million.
Why would Romney’s supporters give such huge sums?   According to Abad-Santos none of them claimed to have done so in the interest of the country, that is, for anyone else than themselves.  Adelson claimed he did so because he “liked to win,” and he was piqued by a comment of Obama that Wall Streeters shouldn’t be taking free trips to Vegas on taxpayer’s money.  Simons said he gave such amounts because Karl Rove recommended it, and anyway he thinks Obama is a socialist.  The Koch brothers are known to be libertarians; they seem to be major factors in the right-ward bolt of the Republican Party in the last few years.  According to Carter Eskew of the Washington Post, “they are giving to support what they see as being in their business or personal financial interest: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government” (quoted by Abad-Santos).     
So, to state the obvious:  a President Romney would have owed his soul to a few donors who for little cost to themselves had gained a strangle-hold on the most powerful office in the world.  The rest of the country could have been disenfranchised.  
And would the great donors care?  They have given little sign that they care much about the rest.  Would they even notice the privations of  ordinary people?  Not so far.  
For these men the proportional cost of their investment in Romney was minimal, although for Romney they would have been critical to his success.  He would never be unaware of where the big contributions came from, even though they can legally be hidden from the rest of the country.  In the last election Romney knew very well who gave large sums – a fair number of them showed up for his “victory party” in Boston.  If he had been elected he would have made sure they got their due. 
Our country has been spared a great transformative catastrophe.   But what about the next time?  Does anyone doubt that it will happen again? 

Some related sources on this topic: 

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/11/which-billionaires-got-their-moneys-worth-election/58786/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/11/07/california-billionaires-win-state-initiative-to-raise-taxes-on-themselves/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rose-ann-demoro/whats-at-stake-when-billi_b_1980688.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/11/06/billionaires-take-to-social-media-soapboxes-on-election-day/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/us/politics/little-to-show-for-cash-flood-by-big-donors.html?_r=0

Risks of concentrated wealth

It is now common
knowledge that the profile of wealth in the United States has changed radically
in the last few years.  While most people
in the country have gained little ground in the last ten years a small number of
individuals have been acquiring huge amounts of wealth at a staggering rate.  Charles M. Blow in the New York Times recently quoted an October
report from the Congressional Budget Office that found that, “from 1979 to
2007, the average real after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the
population with the highest incomes rose 275 percent.”

Actually, it isn’t
really the 1% that has made the most dramatic gains but the upper one-tenth of
1% of the population.  David Cay Johnston reported last year that “The Saez analysis of tax return data shows that
through 2008, the top one-in-a-thousand taxpayers had average income in recent
years that ranged between $5.2 million and $7.5 million annually. Just
investing that much in corporate bonds will produce enough interest income to
keep someone in the top 1 percent.”    

What I don’t hear
people talking about is the risk for the country, actually for democracy, that such
a disparity if wealth creates.  There is
the obvious ability to spend profligately in elections, as in the one being
held this very day.  There is the ability
to control information – both to truncate discussion about some topics and to
promote others that are of interest to those who have the most leverage in the
society.  And then at some point a country’s leaders – congressmen, senators, even presidents – can become so beholden to powerful interests, dominant industries,  wealthy individuals, that the whole apparatus of government administration  becomes merely an instrument of
their will.  
If that happens, those of us who are embedded in the system may not notice how much has changed for a good while, for the narratives that dominate much of our public discourse are constructed by wealthy and powerful interests that have the wherewithal to promote their particular views, in their own interests.