Over the weekend at Vox, Dylan Matthews wrote a great article that ought to surprise no one, but nonetheless is very important, Want to Know What Sets Bernie Sanders Apart From Hillary Clinton? Look at Their Donors. He provided a screenshot of the top donors of the two candidates. All you have to do is look at the very top donor of each because they are entirely typical of the top 20. Hillary Clinton’s top donor is Citigroup Inc, which gave $782,327. Bernie Sanders’ top donor is Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, which gave $95,000. At the bottom of the list (number 20) is Greenberg Traurig with $273,550 for Clinton and the American Federation of Teachers with $35,567 for Sanders.
These are the top contributions in their careers since 1989. This is basically their whole careers. Clinton didn’t run for office herself until 2000. Clearly, First Lady of Arkansas and the United States are political positions — especially in her case. But these weren’t elected offices and so no one gave her campaign contributions. Sanders was mayor of Burlington from 1981 through 1989. But with a population of roughly 40,000 people (and still the biggest town in Vermont), we can assume he didn’t get big campaign contributions. His national political career started in 1990 when he ran for (and won) Vermont’s one seat in the House of Representatives.
The kinds of donors the two candidates attract really are telling. Clinton’s contributors are big banks, big law firms, and big entertainment companies. The only exceptions are Corning Inc, University of California, and EMILY’s List. Of Sanders’ 20 contributors, 19 of them are labor unions. The exception is the American Association for Justice — which could also be considered a kind of union, since it represents the interests of trial lawyers.
One shouldn’t get the idea that Sanders is beholden to labor unions, however; his biggest contributor gave just over a third of Clinton’s 20th biggest contributor. All of Sanders’ contributions combined are equal to less than Clinton’s top two contributions or almost exactly the same as her bottom four. This is representative of the fact that Clinton was Senator of New York — which takes a lot more money to run for office there. Also: she ran for president. But the amount of money that Sanders has received from organized labor is still not all that great.
The more important point here is that labor unions are not giving to Sanders to get access or to change the way that he votes. Unions know that Sanders is on their side. They want to get him elected because they know he is one of the good guys. They give to him the same way I occasionally give ten bucks to a candidate. I don’t think I’m buying anything — other than trying to get a candidate in office who agrees with me. I don’t think this is what Goldman Sachs is up to when it gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to a candidate. (That’s not to say that labor unions don’t also want access — but you need only look at Obama are card check to see how successful that is.)
This offers up a way of reforming campaign finance. It would be possible to turn Goldman Sachs campaign contributions into Frank Moraes contributions. It would just require that contributions go into a fund that was anonymous. Thus, contributions would be for the purpose of supporting someone the contributor thinks the politician will do rather than having it used as a kind of legalized bribery.
Regardless, this list provides yet more evidence that Bernie Sanders really is the kind of person who the American people would want to vote for if they voted based upon the issues. As much as organized labor has been vilified in this country, Sanders’ donors indicate that he’s looking out for the interests of the American people. Clinton’s do not. (The Republican candidates, of course, look even worse.)