Special Interest Big Money in California Politics

dylan Confidence in Democracy Initiative, ConflictWatch, Open Government Institute

When you add up which side gets the most, the media’s current narrative crumbles.

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For years, Democrats and their friends in the mainstream media have decried “Dark Money” and/or “Special Interest Money” influencing elections — supposedly, according to them, all in favor of Republicans. 

Liberal groups repeatedly call for the repeal of the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court case that affirmed political speech was protected under the First Amendment. In running for President in 2020, Joe Biden’s campaign website said he pledged to “end Dark Money groups.”

But is this narrative really true? Certainly not in California — where Democrats have complete control of state politics.

The Transparency Foundation, a non-profit non-partisan group dedicated to shining a light on government corruption, has released a report on campaign funding sources in California alleging that liberal groups are in fact the guiltier party when it comes to special interest money.

The comprehensive report details the top 500 donors of key liberal and conservative campaigns in California, such as the California Democratic Party, California Republican Party, Newsom recall committees, and more. Data was sourced from the California Secretary of State’s record of public financial disclosures. 

The Foundation defined, categorized, and analyzed special interest money from businesses, political action committees (PACs), unions, labor, education, and professional associations. These sources were determined to be special interests on the basis that they are not individuals and do not answer to individuals on how their money is appropriated; they are also traditionally more apt to engage in lobbying activities.

The verdict? The Transparency Foundation found that Democrat campaigns took in roughly $43.4 million (or 619%) more special interest funding than Republican campaigns. 

Additionally, Democrat campaigns took in more special interest money as a percentage of their overall funding than Republican campaigns, averaging 9.22% more.

CA Democrat Party, Top Officials, and Campaigns – Special Interest Money

  • Total Contributions Analyzed: $86,304,720.71
  • Special Interest Money from Corporations, PACs, Unions, Labor: $50,398,885.39
  • Special Interest % of Total Contributions: 58.4%

CA Republican Party, Top Officials, and Campaigns – Special Interest Money

  • Total Contributions Analyzed: $14,257,716.96
  • Special Interest Money from Corporations, PACs, Unions, Labor: $7,012,291.28
  • Special Interest % of Total Contributions: 49.18%

Carl DeMaio, chairman of the Transparency Foundation, says that the results unequivocally “refute the narrative that one side of the political spectrum is ‘pure’ of special interest funding and the other side is ‘contaminated’ by it.”

The Transparency Foundation’s analysis also showed the ultra-wealthy are giving to Democrats in California in larger numbers and greater contributions than Republicans. 

For Republican campaigns, contributions from individuals in the top 500 donors averaged $5,999.45. For Democrat campaigns, contributions from individuals in the top 500 donors averaged $28,960.37 — 383% more dollars than Republican groups. 

“This data indicates that liberal campaign donors were far likelier than conservative donors to be wealthy power players rather than everyday grassroots supporters — the main people politicians should answer to,” explained DeMaio.

DeMaio argues that the best way to fight special interest money and restore the voice of the individual is to vote or become a low-dollar donor to a cause you support.

“Low dollar donors can have a big impact in offsetting the special interest money on both sides of the political spectrum,” DeMaio said.

DeMaio said his organization plans additional watchdog studies to examine whether government decisions are being influenced by campaign contributions — and invites concerned citizens to support the work by contributing online.

Support the Transparency Foundation

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