The Mother Jones 400 (1996): An Overview

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Who are these guys?

Well, for one thing, they are predominantly guys–there are only 50 women on the list. Fully half of the Mother Jones 400 are either heads of corporations or lawyers. Many of them also appear on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest individuals. More than anything, the Mother Jones 400 are people who want something from Congress (see “Backing Winners“).

Why do they give?

While some give for reasons of philanthropy or vanity, the majority are bankers, lawyers, investors, or other businessmen with a big financial stake in the outcome of legislation like securities deregulation, tort reform, or the telecommunications bill. While there are slightly more Democratic givers than Republicans on the list, the GOP agenda of tax cuts and industry deregulation has opened up a number of new pockets.

How do they give?

Every which way they can. In addition to direct contributions to federal candidates (limited to $1,000 per candidate per election), donors can give money to the Democratic and Republican parties.

Many members of the Mother Jones 400 also give through corporate or single-issue political action committees (PACs), which in turn give money to candidates who support their interests. The total amount an individual may give to national candidates, parties, and PACs combined is limited to $25,000 per year.

Getting around this limit, however, is not hard. The biggest loophole is “soft money” to the political parties. There are no limits to the amount of soft money an individual may give. Although soft money is supposed to be used only for “party-building” activities such as get-out-the-vote drives, in practice it pays for overhead and other behind-the-scenes expenses, freeing up other party money to support candidates.

Soft money and donations to federal candidates, parties, and PACs are all reflected in the Mother Jones 400 list. What the list does not reflect is the money these large donors may have convinced others to give, through fundraising efforts or through a loophole called bundling.

Bundling is when a donor collects contributions from family members, business associates, etc., “bundles” them all together, and sends them to a candidate. For example, Steve Wynn (#373 on the Mother Jones 400 list) reported giving Bob Dole just $1,000 since 1993. However, 99 employees and family members of firms owned by Wynn gave Dole bundled contributions of $78,300 in 1995. In some cases, like Fred Lennon (#1 on the list) and his company’s distributors, it appears that employees are pressured to give.

Who they give to

Democratic givers outnumber Republican givers slightly. A few donors give to both political parties.

Where they are

The 400 donors are heavily concentrated in just four states: New York (76), California (73), Texas (43), and Florida (24).


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