The Best Votes Money Can Buy

Facts and figures of the most expensive election campaign in U.S. history

The numbers swirling around Tuesday's voting are both absurdly huge and astonishingly small. The presidential race broke the billion-dollar barrier. The Center for Responsive Politics, one of the best massagers of Federal Election Commission data, estimates that no less than $1.2 billion was spent in the presidential election alone. And that's a conservative estimate because of an unprecedented flood of spending by advocacy groups.

Much of the money gushed through this campaign season's favorite loophole, Section 527 of the federal tax code, but some of it remains uncountable because it was funneled through yet another part of the tax code, Section 501(c), that doesn't require full disclosure.

Overall, an estimated $3.9 billion was spent on congressional and presidential campaigning, compared with $3 billion in 2000.

The personal-spending champion of 2000 was a Democrat, Goldman Sachs mogul Jon Corzine, who spent $60 million of his own money to win himself a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey. The champion spender of 2004 is liberal George Soros, who wasn't running for anything. Soros spent almost $25 million just on Section 527 "electioneering" committees, much of it to pay for ads and voter mobilization.

And now for the ridiculously small number: Of the estimated 220 million Americans 18 and over, far fewer than 1 percent gave any money whatsoever. As of October 25, a total of 988,049 people had given at least $200 (the smallest amount itemized) to candidates, parties, or political action committees. That's not even one-half of 1 percent of the number of adult Americans. (See my Bush Beat item here.)

George W. Bush garnered the biggest share of money from corporations and from mailing lists pioneered decades ago by such heroes of the right as Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich. (See my May 2000 Voicestory, "Left Behind," about how the radical right got hooked up to the Internet long before progressives caught on.) Democrats were further hampered by the end of the era of "soft money," thanks to the McCain-Feingold legislation passed by Congress since the 2000 race. That ban on unlimited donations to the national parties by corporations, unions, and wealthy people just forced liberals to find another way to raise money to offset the GOP's corporate edge: The solution was to funnel money through Section 527 of the tax code. Call it hard money, call it soft money, but it was big money. In general, as long as the money wasn't spent on ads that specifically advocated the election or defeat of a presidential candidate, they were allowed. Huge amounts of 527 money also went into get-out-the-vote efforts. The GOP tried to get the Federal Election Commission to squelch that funding mechanism, but the FEC refused last May to do so, and Republicans started forming their own committees, notably the Swift Boat Veterans.

It's still unclear how the figures will shake out. Steven Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics says the people who gave to 527s were not necessarily the same people who gave "soft money" contributions in the old days. There will likely be an outcry against the new loopholes, and they might be closed. But others will open up. As Weiss notes, "Every time a new law is passed, there's an adjustment. The amount of money spent? We do expect it to increase."


A $3.9 Billion Breakdown

Following are details of the estimated $3.9 billion spent on the just-ended federal campaigns:

Individual contributions to candidates and parties: $2.5 billion

PAC contributions to candidates and parties: $384 million

Candidates' self-funding: $144 million

Section 527 spending (on federal elections): $386 million

Public funding of presidential candidates and party conventions: $207 million

Convention host committee spending: $139 million

Other spending (including loans and independent expenditures): $102 million

SOURCESCenter for Responsive Politics, Federal Election Commission


Top 50 Zip Codes

The parties are on the Upper East Side, and you're not invited.

Far and away the biggest-spending single zip code in the United States for donations to political parties, candidates, and PACs is 10021, the area of Manhattan once commonly known as the Silk Stocking District, stretching from 61st to 81st streets, Central Park to the East River.

As of October 25, its residents had given $17.7 million to federal candidates, parties, and PACs. (That doesn't even count contributions from PACs. Nor does it include any of the nearly half a billion dollars given during this campaign to Section 527 "electioneering" committees for federal, state, and local political campaigns and ballot issues.)

In 10021, $11.6 million went to Democrats and $4.7 million to Republicans. (The rest went to PACs or third-party candidates.)

People in the Lenox Hill zip gave more than twice as much as the next two zips combined—their neighbors, that is. Second and third on the list were the two areas that flank the folks whose servants mail their packages at the Lenox Hill post office: 10022 (just to the south) and 10028 (just to the north). Fourth on the list is 10024, just across the park on the Upper West Side.

Democrats got the preponderance of money in all those zips. But Republicans made out well, too.

Different watchdog groups do their analyses at different times, and all the money's not counted from this campaign season, let alone the votes. But a midsummer subtotal by the analysts at Public Campaign reveals that John Kerry had gotten $1.7 million from Lenox Hill up to that point, while George W. Bush had gotten $1.3 million.

Considering the people who live there, it's not surprising.

As Andrew Beveridge of the Gotham Gazette pointed out last year, 10021 generated the most money for the 2000 campaigns of both Bush and Al Gore.

Manhattan, Beveridge noted, "is now the U.S. county with the highest disparity of income." Of the 2,216 census tracts in New York City in 1999, he found, only 15 had average annual incomes above $200,000, and 12 of those were on the Upper East Side.

Following were the top 50 zips in the U.S. in political contributions:

1. 10021 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Lenox Hill) $17.7 million

2. 10022 New York, NY (Upper East Side) $7.9 million

3. 10028 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Yorkville) $6 million

4. 10024 New York, NY (Upper West Side) $5.9 million

5. 20007 Washington, D.C.$5.6 million

6. 10023 New York, NY (Upper West Side–Lincoln Center) $5.6 million

7. 20008 Washington, D.C.$5.4 million

8. 10128 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Carnegie Hill) $5.4 million

9. 90210 Beverly Hills, CA$5.3 million

10. 22101 McLean, VA$4.9 million

11. 20016 Washington, D.C.$4.7 million

12. 20854 Potomac, MD$4.4 million

13. 20815 Chevy Chase, MD$4.4 million

14. 60611 Chicago, IL$4.4 million

15. 90049 Los Angeles, CA$4.4 million

16. 10019 New York, NY(Midtown) $4.3 million

17. 33480 Palm Beach, FL$4.1 million

18. 75205 Dallas, TX$4.1 million

19. 60614 Chicago, IL$4 million

20. 06830 Greenwich, CT$3.9 million

21. 20036 Washington, D.C.$3.7 million

22. 06831 Greenwich, CT$3.6 million

23. 60093 Winnetka, IL$3.6 million

24. 10017 New York, NY(Turtle Bay) $3.4 million

25. 60610 Chicago, IL$3.1 million

26. 02138 Cambridge, MA$3.1 million

27. 75225 Dallas, TX$3.1 million

28. 77019 Houston, TX$3.1 million

29. 30327 Atlanta, GA$3.1 million

30. 20817 Bethesda, MD$3.1 million

31. 22102 McLean, VA$3 million

32. 22314 Alexandria, VA$2.9 million

33. 20005 Washington, D.C.$2.9 million

34. 10583 Scarsdale, NY$2.9 million

35. 63124 St. Louis, MO$2.9 million

36.10011 New York, NY (Chelsea) $2.9 million

37. 45243 Cincinnati, OH$2.8 million

38. 60045 Lake Forest, IL$2.7 million

39. 77024 Houston, TX$2.7 million

40. 22207 Arlington, VA$2.7 million

41. 10003 New York, NY (East Village) $2.7 million

42. 90272 Pacific Palisades, CA$2.6 million

43. 75201 Dallas, TX$2.6 million

44. 90024 Los Angeles, CA$2.6 million

45. 20009 Washington, D.C.$2.6 million

46. 92037 La Jolla, CA$2.6 million

47. 19103 Philadelphia, PA$2.6 million

48. 10025 New York, NY(Upper West Side) $2.6 million

49. 90067 Los Angeles, CA$2.5 million

50. 08540 Princeton, NJ$2.5 million


The Top 10 From 10021

The largest single donations (so far) from zip code 10021, listed by name, occupation, date, amount, and recipient:

JASON STEIN
Paramount BioCapital Inc.(venture capital firm that invests in biopharmaceutical companies)

July 13, 2004: $27,858 Republican National Committee

MICHAEL WEISER
Paramount BioCapital Inc., director of research

July 16, 2004: $27,305 Republican National Committee

CONSTANCE MILSTEIN
Milstein Properties, real estate executive (daughter of founder of $5 billion real estate empire; self-described "Park Avenue matron" caught on tape in November 2000 in Wisconsin "handing out packs of cigarettes to homeless men who had just voted by absentee ballot," according toMother Jones)

December 31, 2003: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

JEROME S. MARKOWITZ
Retired (securities business)

June 20, 2003: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

FELIX G. ROHATYN
Rohatyn Associates, owner (former kingpin investment banker at Lazard Freres)

November 19, 2003: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

CATHY LASRY
Homemaker (see Marc Lasry, below)

June 29, 2004: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

JEROME S. MARKOWITZ
Retired (securities business)

March 31, 2004: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

MARC LASRY

Avenue Capital Group, senior managing director (hedge fund mogul)

June 16, 2004: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

MARCIA RIKLIS
Investor

November 25, 2003: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

ROBERT SILLERMAN
Sillerman Companies, president and CEO (entertainment mogul)

December 31, 2003: $25,000 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

SOURCESCenter for Responsive Politics, based on FEC data through October 25, 2004


An Unhealthy Trend

The watchdog group Public Campaign, searching for the perfect metaphor earlier this year to describe the relationship between lobbying and health care, found it: In a report entitled Paybacks: How the White House and Congress are Neglecting Our Health Care Because of Their Corporate Contributors, Public Campaign concluded, "Lobbying by health care and related industries is metastasizing like a cancer on the body politic."

If you don't believe that, look at the charts. In all, the industries of tobacco, health insurance/HMOs, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and meat and food processing poured more than $163 million into federal campaigns and party committees just since 1999, three-fourths of it to Republicans. Since 1992, these health care-related interests have radically increased their federal campaign spending and "have severely shifted their support toward the GOP," the report says. Following are the percentage increases by industry, to each party, from 1992 to 2002:

Tobacco: Democrats, minus 25 percent; Republicans, 119 percent

Meat and food processing: Democrats, 6 percent; Republicans, 88 percent

Health insurance/HMOs: Democrats, 164 percent; Republicans, 642 percent

Pharmaceutical manufacturers: Democrats, 79 percent; Republicans, 594 percent

SOURCESPublic Campaign, based on figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics


The Numbers Game

Food Safety

47: Millions of dollars given by the meat- and food-processing industries to federal campaigns and parties since 1999

75: Percentage of that money given to Republicans

1,700: Thousands of dollars contributed to George W. Bush from those industries

91: Thousands of dollarscontributed to John Kerry from those industries

43,100: Average number of dollars of campaign cash given to the 48 senators who voted in favor of giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to shut down dirty meat plants

87,200: Average number of dollars in campaign cash given to the 49 senators who voted against giving the USDA authority to shut down plants

27.4: Millions of pounds of chicken and turkey recalled by a Pennsylvania meat-processing plant after eight deaths and three miscarriages

SOURCESPublic Campaign, Center for Responsive Politics


The Numbers Game

Prescription Drugs

47: Millions of dollars given by pharmaceutical manufacturers to federal campaigns and parties since 1999

77: Percentage of that money given to Republicans

418,000: Dollars collected by George W. Bush from drug-manufacturing companies

128,000: Dollars collected by John Kerry

6: Rank of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, sponsor of the December 2003 Medicare drug law, in lifetime contributions from drug manufacturers

15: Rank of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, sponsor of the Medicare drug bill on the Senate side, in lifetime contributions from drug manufacturers

SOURCESPublic Campaign, Center for Responsive Politics


The Numbers Game

Health Insurance

44: Millions of Americans without health insurance

49.4: Millions of dollars given by the health insurance and HMO industries since 1999 to federal campaigns and parties

66: Percentage of that money given to Republicans

7,000: Number of bills introduced during the current session of Congress

6: Number of introduced billsproposing a national health care plan offering comprehensive coverage

2: Number of those health care bills that would extend coverage to children

0: Number of those health care bills that have come to a vote

SOURCESPublic Campaign, Center for Responsive Politics


Billionaire vs. Billionaire

George Soros and Harold Simmons, two men about the same age, couldn't be more different. Soros, born in Hungary in 1930, fled to London as a teenager and then to the U.S., building a huge financial empire in the process.

Simmons, born to Texas teachers, started with a drugstore chain and then began buying chemical and waste-disposal firms. Lobby Watch, a branch of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, gives this brief description: "Billionaire corporate raider Harold Simmons controls Contran and Valhi, holding companies that run an empire of sugar, manufacturing, metal, chemical, oil, real estate, insurance, and other interests."

One of Simmons's latest plans is to import radioactive waste from Ohio and bury it in west Texas. (See my October 13 Bush Beat item, "Garbage In, Garbage Out.")

Both are now billionaires. Simmons has given money to arthritis and cancer research, Soros to political groups and foundations, such as the Open Society Institute, which finances numerous non-governmental organizations in more than 50 countries.

As of October 24, Soros gave nearly $25 million in Section 527 funds, all of it to further Kerry and other Democrats. Simmons didn't come close to that total, but he and other Republicans started late with their Section 527 giving.

Here were Simmons's 527 contributions of at least $100,000:

May 28, 2004: $100,000 to Club for Growth

July 30, 2004: $300,000 to Club for Growth

August 18, 2004: $1 million to Swift Boat Vets for Truth

September 1, 2004: $500,000 to Progress for America Voter Fund

September 30, 2004: $4 million to Swift Boat Vets for Truth

Faced with always playing catch-up to the corporate contributions that mostly go to the GOP, Soros and other liberals started piling up money through Section 527 more than a year ago.

But Soros did more than just give money. As he said in a September 28 speech at the National Press Club in D.C.: "This is the most important election of my lifetime. I have never been heavily involved in partisan politics but these are not normal times. President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values."

Following were Soros's major contributions to Section 527 committees:

August 19, 2003: $1 million to America Coming Together

September 12, 2003: $2 million to America Coming Together

September 20, 2003: $2.5 million to America Coming Together

November 1, 2003: $500,000 to moveon.org Voter Fund

November 1, 2003: $500,000 to moveon.org Voter Fund

December 23, 2003: $2 million to America Coming Together

December 30, 2003: $955,715 to moveon.org Voter Fund

December 30, 2003: $955,714 to moveon.org Voter Fund

January 26, 2004: $300,000 to Campaign for America's Future

March 8, 2004: $1.04 million to moveon.org Voter Fund

March 9, 2004: $1.04 million to moveon.org

April 15, 2004: $4.55 million to Joint Victory Campaign 2004

June 23, 2004: $250,000 to Democracy for America

August 13, 2004: $2.5 million to Joint Victory Campaign 2004

September 1, 2004: $300,000 to the Real Economy Group

September 17, 2004: $325,000 to Democrats 2000

September 20, 2004: $325,000 to Young Democrats of America

September 24, 2004: $100,000 to Win Back Respect

October 8, 2004: $2 million to Joint Victory Campaign 2004

October 8, 2004: $3 million to Joint Victory Campaign 2004

As if that wasn't enough, Soros shelled out $500,000 on October 29, according to Political Money Line, to buy anti-Bush ads. He had already chipped in $50,000 for the anti-Bush ad "He just doesn't get it."

SOURCESPolitical Money Line, FEC, Center for Responsive Politics


Nonstop: NYC to South Dakota

The price of just one vote in the U.S. Senate race in South Dakota is $89 and climbing. Minority Leader Tom Daschle's attempt to stave off a challenge by Republican John Thune became the most expensive congressional race in the nation.

The whole state of South Dakota has a population of about 764,000, and the number of likely voters was estimated to be no more than 370,000. To reach them, a total of $33 million was raised and almost $28 million spent, as of October 28, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that didn't count the Section 527 funds pouring in to buy ads and round up voters.

Four years ago, New York "boasted" of having the most expensive non-presidential race: the U.S. Senate contest between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio, which nearly broke the $100 million barrier. This time, New Yorkers still have a big stake in a non-presidential race: Residents of zip code 10021 (see above) had funneled more than a quarter of a million dollars to Daschle's aid, as of October 25. In fact, six of the top 10 zip codes contributing to Daschle abut Central Park.

Following were Daschle's top 10:

1. 10021 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Lenox Hill) $255,860

2. 20007 Washington, D.C.$98,850

3. 57105 Sioux Falls, SD$98,199

4. 10019 New York, NY (Midtown) $95,450

5. 10028 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Yorkville) $93,200

6. 10023 New York, NY (Upper West Side–Lincoln Center) $87,570

7. 10022 New York, NY (Upper East Side) $87,445

8. 20008 Washington, D.C.$85,250

9. 57702 Rapid City, SD$77,650

10. 10128 New York, NY (Upper East Side–Carnegie Hill) $76,440

Actually, the figure of $89 per vote is low. A University of South Dakota political science professor told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that an estimated $1,500 will have been spent on each undecided voter in the state.

SOURCESCenter for Responsive Politics, based on FEC data through October 25, 2004

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