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Big Money in Politics: 1% of 1% Contribute 28% of Campaign Funds

In the Class Warfare Department, The Sunlight Foundation posts a report on the 1% of the 1% of campaign financiers. According to their analysis of the 2012 election, 28% of political contributions to candidates, PACs, and Super PACs came from 31,385 individuals, one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population.

Put that in perspective: suppose you run a big business. Suppose you have ten thousand customers. Suppose one of those customers provides over a quarter of your income. How much time and effort will you spend making sure you keep that one customer's business?


This places limits on what is politically possible. As Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., put it succinctly at a recent event at Yale University, recalling his time fundraising in his recent (2012) campaign: “I talked a lot more about carried interest inside of that call room than I did in the supermarket.” (“Carried interest” refers to profits that private equity and hedge fund managers earn on investments.)

Murphy knows it is much easier to raise the kind of money he needs if he remains sympathetic to the concerns of private equity and hedge fund managers – and much harder if he supports increasing the tax rate on carried interest. Murphy is not alone. Every member of Congress faces the same concern. They don’t want to upset the people most likely to fund their campaigns, and will try their best to avoid doing so. As costs of elections for office run higher and higher, candidates and parties have less freedom to cross a potential donor. It amounts to what Lawrence Lessig has called “dependence corruption” – the way in which political discourse must necessarily shift to reflect the demands and opinions of the most active donors [Lee Drutman, "The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012," Sunlight Foundation, 2013.06.24].

Alas, the 2012 data don't tell us anything about John Thune or Tim Johnson, who weren't on the ballot. Rep. Kristi Noem was notably less dependent on the 1% of the 1% than the national average: $332K of her $2.77 million —12.0% — campaign war chest came from the top 1% of the 1%. Those 161 top donors still outbid all of the contributions from small donors (i.e., the unitemized contributions under $200), who coughed up $292K — 10.5% of Noem's campaign funds. Another $974K — 35.2% — of Noem's 2012 money came from PACs, whose funds come even more predominantly from the richest of the rich.

So who are the 1% of the 1% in South Dakota? Fifty of our neighbors make that list, mostly men, and almost exclusively Republican:

Name City Employer Position Total Given to GOP to Dems
Adelstein, Stanford Rapid City Northwestern Engineering Co. CEO $15,000 100.00% 0.00%
Bockorny, David Sioux Falls Bockorny Group Partner $71,276 98.59% 1.41%
Bockorny, Jill Sioux Falls Bockorny Group Homemaker $40,200 100.00% 0.00%
Broin, Jeff Mr Dell Rapids P.O.E.T. CEO $90,800 94.12% 5.88%
Broin, Robert Mr Sioux Falls Self-Employed Home Maker $31,300 100.00% 0.00%
Broin, Tammie Mrs Dell Rapids Homemaker Homemaker $24,600 77.78% 22.22%
Broin, Todd Sioux Falls Self-Employed Computer IT $18,750 100.00% 0.00%
Buckingham, Robert D Mr Rapid City Dlorah, Inc. Education $13,280 100.00% 0.00%
Carlson, Henry Jr Sioux Falls Retired Retired $67,500 100.00% 0.00%
Christen, Donna Huron Christen Group Homemaker $25,000 0.00% 100.00%
Cranny, Michael Dakota Dunes Lsi Manager $14,218 100.00% 0.00%
Dykhouse, Dana J Sioux Falls First Premier Bank Bank Officer $56,000 100.00% 0.00%
Erickson, Jeff A Sioux Falls Self Investor $20,500 100.00% 0.00%
Everist, Thomas S Sioux Falls The Everist Company President $90,950 100.00% 0.00%
Farrar, Frank L Britton Retired Retired $15,000 100.00% 0.00%
Griffin, Mark E Sioux Falls Lewis Drug CEO $30,960 92.86% 7.14%
Harms, Duane D Brookings Harms Oil Company Oil Jobber $33,500 100.00% 0.00%
Healy, Bret Chamberlain River Bluffs Strategies Owner $30,500 21.43% 78.57%
Hey, Steven C Sioux Falls School Bus Inc President $15,750 100.00% 0.00%
Hoffman, Blake Sioux Falls Blue Mountain Development Developer $13,000 100.00% 0.00%
Hopkins, Jack E Mr Sioux Falls Cortrust Bank National Association President/Chief Executive Officer $13,954 80.00% 20.00%
Jacobson, Garry Sioux Falls Malloy Electric Owner $30,345 100.00% 0.00%
Jewett, Harvey C Iv Aberdeen Self-Employed Attorney $56,400 100.00% 0.00%
Kessler, Tim Aberdeen Kesslers Grocery Grocery $16,500 100.00% 0.00%
Kirby, Dan Sioux Falls Kirby Financial Investor $94,250 100.00% 0.00%
Kirby, Steve Sioux Falls Bluestem President $92,175 100.00% 0.00%
Kirby, Suzette Ms Sioux Falls Homemaker Homemaker $25,000 100.00% 0.00%
Koehler, James Aberdeen Self-Employed Hotel Developer $36,900 100.00% 0.00%
Krabbenhoft, Kelby Sioux Falls Sanford Health President/CEO $18,000 100.00% 0.00%
Lautt, Jeff Dell Rapids Poet Executive Vice President $23,000 50.00% 50.00%
Leddy, Mark Milbank Valley Queen Cheese Factory, Inc. CEO $13,500 100.00% 0.00%
Lee, Karl O Mr Aberdeen Retired Retired $14,350 100.00% 0.00%
Lewis, Paul J Sioux Falls Pal Inc. Insurance $17,500 100.00% 0.00%
Lien, Chuck Mr Rapid City Pete Lien And Sons Inc. Business Executive $13,750 100.00% 0.00%
Link, Troy J Mr Huron Jack Link's Beef Jerky President $74,850 100.00% 0.00%
Metz, William Dakota Dunes Retired Retired $27,700 100.00% 0.00%
Moquist, Ronald Sioux Falls Retired President/CEO $32,000 100.00% 0.00%
Moyle, Gilbert D Iii Rapid City Moyle Petroleum President $19,550 100.00% 0.00%
Nylen, Mark North Sioux City Hepar Bioscience Llc Salesman $31,000 100.00% 0.00%
Persinger, Wilson G Dakota Dunes Wilson Trailer Company Executive $15,000 100.00% 0.00%
Peterson, Mark R Dakota Dunes Peterson Management Owner $13,500 100.00% 0.00%
Robinson, Warren Mr Rapid City Black Hills Corp Director $13,875 100.00% 0.00%
Sather, Duane Sioux Falls Retired Retired $34,500 100.00% 0.00%
Schieffer, Kevin Sioux Falls Dm&E Railroad President $21,000 100.00% 0.00%
Shipley, Larry Vermillion Retired Investor $30,000 0.00% 0.00%
Sullivan, Marian Sioux Falls Sullivan Inc. Owner $23,750 100.00% 0.00%
Tierney, Daniel V Mr Sioux Falls no info no info $30,000 100.00% 0.00%
Tomlinson, Michael Watertown AFLAC Associate $14,984 100.00% 0.00%
Winker, James Sioux Falls Retired Retired $14,050 100.00% 0.00%
Zimmerman, William G Mr Pierre Self-Employed Rancher $17,000 100.00% 0.00%

41 of those 50 top donors gave exclusively to Republican candidates. Only eight gave even a little money to Democrats; only two gave a majority of their money to Dems. It's no wonder Rick Weiland is making campaign finance an issue in the Senate race while M. Michael Rounds says keep those checks coming! and Annette Bosworth goes fishing for Koch sugar daddies.

Geographical note: 24 of South Dakota's 50 1% of the 1% live in Sioux Falls. Only five live in Rapid City. No other top donors live in West River; only two more (one from Pierre, one from Chamberlain) can see West River from their front porches. Four live at the Dakota Dunes country club.


  1. Joseph g thompson 2013.06.27

    Looks to me as if Republicans are either more successful or more generous than Democrats in South Dakota.

  2. Michael Black 2013.06.27

    People can spend money on whatever they want, but would it not make more sense to give some of that money to organizations that serve others and that can make a difference rather than political parties.

  3. Kevin Weiland 2013.06.27

    An example of big money and their influence is with Big Tobacco.
    I fought big tobacco for years as a physician volunteer for the American Cancer Society. I saw their influence at the national level as well as the state level. Big Tobacco had influence on then Representative Rounds when we tried to pass second hand smoke law's, and again with Gov. Rounds when we tried to pass a tobacco tax. Both eventually passed with Ballot initiatives, and because our efforts, we have saved health care dollars, but more importantly, saved lives.
    In 2004, The Tobacco Free Kids Network published the votes on the influence Big Tobacco had on money given to candidates and how it influenced their vote on a bill in support of the FDA to control and regulate nicotine. The party influence in a Senate controlled Republicans is evident and the bill was killed.

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