If there's a single all-encompassing truism about American politics, it's that investing in the right candidate can pay a handsome dividend.
That's certainly validated by the experience of the scores of American billionaires who helped bankroll Donald Trump's last presidential campaign.
Many own fortunes based on the real estate, private equity, or oil and gas industries, all of which did exceptionally well as a result of Trump's tax cuts and deregulatory policies.
Among the biggest contributors to the Trump Victory Fund in 2019-2020, according to a compilation of Federal Election Commission data by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, are gas pipeline magnate Kelcy Lee Warren ($2.25 million); casino owners Steve Wynn ($1.5 million), Philip Ruffin ($1.38 million) and the late Sheldon Adelson ($1.16 million); oil developers Jeffrey D. Hildebrand ($955,000) and Harold Hamm ($300,000).
The billionaire contributors to the Victory Fund, a political action committee affiliated with the candidate's reelection campaign committee, may have merely been showing their gratitude for Trump's service to them over the last four years. Or they may have been hoping to make an investment in the future — that is, four more years of Trumpian handouts to corporations and the affluent.
Altogether, 63 Americans with net worth of $1 billion or more — $243.7 billion total in wealth — contributed $33.3 million to the Trump Victory Fund. This group comprised about one-quarter of 1% of the fund's nearly 26,000 individual contributors, but their donations came to 10% of the fund's overall haul of $366 million in 2019-2020.
This record forces upon us a few important observations.
One: Economic inequality in the U.S. has reached grotesque levels. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich observes, the increase in wealth concentration in America didn't even pause for for COVID-19. "America's billionaires could give everybody in the country a $3,000 stimulus check," he tweeted Thursday from his perch on the faculty of UC Berkeley, "and still be richer than they were before the pandemic."
Two: America's private funding of elections has grossly skewed government policy to serve the rich at the expense of the middle- and working class.
"It's not surprising that this is a group that uses its power and influence," says Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the institute and co-author of its analysis of the billionaire contributions. "We need a better campaign finance system that breaks the nexus between big money and influence."