A new study conducted by the Every Voice Center finds that the donor base for 2016 presidential candidates skews heavily towards individuals who are white and wealthy.
The researchers acknowledge that the fact that wealthy white people give money to politicians is not news to most, but say that it matters "because the path to power determines who represents us and whose personal priorities become policy priorities, whether it’s setting up rules for banks or the criminal justice system."
The typical income level for the top 10 direct giving zip codes—$110,000— is twice the national average, and home values are five times higher on average—$890,000.
In order to investigate the source of major campaign funding, the researchers used a methodology that involved analyzing Federal Election Commission financial reports for the 10 presidential candidates currently leading the money race and cross-referencing U.S. Census data on zip codes across the country. The resulting conclusion was that the most generous donors usually live in the nation’s wealthiest and least diverse neighborhoods.
In fact, presidential donor giving is concentrated to just a select few powerful zip codes. The study, released on August 6, found that half of the $74 million in itemized individual donations raised directly by the candidates came from one percent of the country’s zip codes, representing about four percent of the voting age population.
"Political inequality is directly tied to economic inequality. The current system challenges American democracy at its core."
The research points out that the presidential donor base is both wealthier than the rest of America, and less diverse than the rest of America.
According to the study, the typical income level for the top 10 direct giving zip codes ($110,000) is twice the national average, and home values are five times higher on average ($890,000).
"This study reinforces the divides in power along the lines of race," says Every Voice Chief of Staff Rahna Epting. "Political inequality is directly tied to economic inequality. The current system challenges American democracy at its core."
One surprising finding from the study states that donors from the majority white Upper East and Upper West sides of Central Park gave more to presidential candidates than all 1,200 majority African-American zip codes in the country. They also gave more than all 1,300 majority Hispanic or Latino zip codes in the country.
In order to combat the inequality precipitated by the current campaign finance system, the researchers found that creating incentives for small donors can increase participation and diversify the donor pool.
An alternative system of growing popularity is small donor public financing, which allows candidates to fund their campaign from everyday people. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio famously ran and won using this groundbreaking model, which MSNBC reports as being "touted as a national model for how to reduce the influence of money in politics in the age of Citizens United."
"The path to power determines who represents us and whose personal priorities become policy priorities, whether it’s setting up rules for banks or the criminal justice system."
Epting points out that a model of this nature changes the entire power dynamic in the political process to be "more aligned with community needs and not beholden to a wealthy few."
In addition to the study, Every Voice released the 21st Century Democracy Agenda which proposes a five point plan to resolve the issue of money in politics.