GGeorge Soros, Mike Bloomberg, the Adelson family, Charles Koch and Peter Thiel are common names of billionaires suspected of having disproportionate influence on the outcome of US Democratic elections and politics in general through their large donations. In the second tier are Washington's lobbyists, who use their donations to gain access, be heard, and be considered in political circles of power. But the influence of both groups is waning. Surprisingly, this is not a cause for joy for Democratic friends.
Open Secrets, an independent election watchdog, recently released a ranking of the members of the US Congress who were able to raise the largest amount of donations from so-called small donors ($200 or less) in the 2022 midterm elections. Leftist Bernie Sanders was first, followed by Major Taylor Green, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Matt Gates. What all four MPs have in common is that they get more than 60 percent of their official donations from small donors. And they represent fringe political positions within their respective parties with ruthlessly populist rhetoric. The ranking suggests that political polarizers have an easier time getting smaller donations.
Does this, in turn, mean that small donors are fueling political polarization? According to constitutional lawyer Richard Bildes, scientists largely agree that individual donors are more driven by ideology than the corporations and lobbying organizations that give money to election campaigns. According to Pilde, the Internet and social media have fundamentally changed the campaign financing process. They have significantly reduced efforts by politicians to appeal to donors en masse. But thanks to digital payment services, it has become much easier for donors to pay themselves. According to Bildes, receiving small donations is becoming increasingly important.
Donald Trump receives particularly small donations
It's reflected in the numbers: In the 2018 congressional elections, small donations became a noticeable factor for the first time and made campaign experts take notice. After analyzing the campaign financing of presidential candidates for the 2020 election, the Public Interest Research Group found that small donors are already making the biggest contributions. At about 35 percent, they were just ahead of big donors and political action groups, or PACs. The latter are organizations that support political agendas and politicians without (at least theoretically) aligning with them. PACs are increasingly becoming capital-raising points for small donations, and their weight is becoming ever greater.
Donald Trump is a true expert on small donations. According to an analysis by Politico, the former president of the United States managed to attract money from more than 780,000 donors in 2021 and 2022. No other candidate, no other PAC can continue. Like every candidate's website, Trump's site encourages donations. But his skill is already evident in the choice of words for the slogan: “They're not after me, they're after you. I'm coming their way.
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