Unions vs. Rich Businessmen: Who Funds the Democrats?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Kevin Drum’s March/April cover story on the decline of labor unions as a political force in the United States and the corresponding rise of income inequality is a must-read as Republican governors across the country work to strip workers of collective bargaining rights. Kevin’s conclusion—that if we don’t want inequality and corporate/Wall Street rapacity to get out of hand, we have to find something to replace unions as a mass political force advocating for the interests of the middle class—was widely debated in the blogosphere. Kevin seemed to imply that the death of unions will mean the decline of the Democratic party, which relies on labor as a major source of campaign funds. But Matt Yglesias had another theory:

I think people should shy away from overestimating the partisan stakes here. It’s true that in the very short term extirpating public sector unions will damage the finances of the Democratic Party. But the political system has a strong tendency toward equilibrium. Democrats will keep getting enough money to stay in business and will keep winning approximately half the elections. It’s just that in post-union America, rich businessmen will be the only viable sources of political funding.

My friend (and former Mother Jones employee) Mike Beckel at the Center for Responsive Politics seems to have proven Yglesias’ point. Mike crunched the data, and it turns out that as Democrats have become less dependent on unions, they’ve become ever-more-dependent on rich businessmen and corporations:

A decade ago, corporate PACs favored Republicans over Democrats by about a two-to-one ratio.

By the 2008 election cycle, however, when Democrats were poised to control both chambers of Congress and the White House, contributions from business PACs were split about evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates and groups. During the 2010 election cycle, that parity continued—almost down to the last dollar….

…All the while, labor union PAC contributions hovered between $59 million and $73 million, typically with 90 percent or more of those dollars supporting Democrats each election cycle, according to the Center’s research.

While corporate PACs doled out 73 percent more money during the 2010 election cycle than they did during the 2000 election cycle, union PACs donated just 17 percent more.

Mike has charts, too. It’s pretty clear, as Yglesias theorized, that as union donations fail to keep up with ever-increasing amounts of money from corporations and rich businessmen, the Democrats are forced to replace the union money with corporate dollars. And you can bet that money comes with strings attached.

More Mother Jones reporting on Dark Money

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate