Money Talks | The Nation


Money Talks

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The class differences are also stark in the historic debate over globalization and trade. Fifty-three percent of voters think free-trade agreements cost more jobs than they create, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Barely one-fourth of voters think free trade creates more jobs than it costs, but 55 percent of large donors believe that, including the majority of both Democratic and Republican donors. (The contrast is greatest among Democrats; such voters are more likely to be suspicious of trade and donors more likely to be supportive.)

About the Author

Celinda Lake
Celinda Lake, founder of Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates, is a leading opinion researcher.
Robert L. Borosage
Robert L. Borosage
Robert L. Borosage is president of the Institute for America's Future.

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Donors and voters also hold divergent views on giving China "permanent normal trade relations." Voters oppose it 53 percent to 31 percent, while donors favor it 56 percent to 31 percent. So when President Clinton joined with Republican Congressional leaders to drive the China trade deal through the House, members had to choose between their donors and their voters. In an election year, with fundraising at fever pitch, itπs not surprising that money won.

Voters and donors also divide on regulating corporations. Voters think regulations need to be tougher, by 52 percent to 34 percent, while donors think they "go too far now" by 45 to 39. Here again, there is a notable partisan divide, with Democratic donors more likely than Republicans to favor tougher regulations.

One striking result from the poll is that gender matters: Female donors are far closer to voters in their attitudes on economic issues than are male donors. They are far more likely to favor investment in education and healthcare over a tax cut or debt elimination, far more dubious about privatizing Social Security and the benefits of free trade. One reason may be that women donors are much more in touch with peopleπs lives. Seventy-two percent of voters and 68 percent of female donors think that most Americans are "just holding their own" in the new prosperity, while only 50 percent of male donors agree. Strikingly, 71 percent of female donors and 76 percent of voters believe that it is unfair to pay temporary workers less than regular employees for the same work, while only 50 percent of male donors think it unfair, and 42 percent think it is fair.

If women funded politics, the divide between large donors and voters would be far less stark. But there are far fewer female donors than male ones. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, women make about one-fourth of the "hard money" donations of $200 or more to federal candidates, but only about one-eighth of the unlimited soft-money contributions. This suggests that many of the hard-money contributions are "proxies," directed by husbands seeking to avoid the contribution limits.

Like women, smaller donors are not as divorced from voters as is big money. A separate survey of moderate donors ($200 to $1,000) shows that they stand almost equidistant between voters and fat cats in both average income and views. They are more conservative on economic issues than voters are, but less than the big money. And they are better off than voters are, but not as wealthy as the big money.

The conventions of both parties are testaments to the power of money. Upstairs, in the skyboxes and the back rooms, on yachts and in mansions, large contributors are courted privately by politicians. Downstairs, the delegates are herded together to provide a backdrop for the cameras. But the large donors who pay for Americaπs politics donπt look, live or think like America. In fact, there is only one public institution that is similar in composition to the circle of political fat cats--the US Senate. Like their donors, the Senate is disproportionately white, male, aging and rich. No wonder big money has such inordinate influence. When they talk to their senators, donors are often talking to people just like themselves.

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