The Impact of Wealthy Donor Consortia on U.S. Politics and Public Policy

Awarded Scholars:
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Columbia University
Theda Skocpol, Harvard University
Project Date:
Mar 2017
Award Amount:
$75,606

Recent studies find that legislators are more responsive to the interests of the affluent than to those of middle and lower-income voters. The wealthiest donors account for increasing proportions of political donations, which have been identified as a source of political influence. Some scholars have probed the institutional and network ties among wealthy donors. But scholars have overlooked the sustained efforts of organized groups and networks of donors who work together over many years, not just during elections, to influence political outcomes.

To fill this gap, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Theda Skocpol will assemble and analyze data on organized consortia of U.S. billionaires and millionaires operating on both the political left and right. These networks coordinate large and sustained donor contributions for a range of activities, from idea creation to policy advocacy to electoral mobilization. The project will focus on two important donor consortia operating during the 2000s: the Koch seminars, launched in 2003 to promote libertarian and ultra-free-market politics, and the Democracy Alliance (DA), founded in 2005 to bolster political activities on the progressive left. Hertel-Fernandez and Skocpol will situate the wealthy participants in these consortia in relation to wealthy donors in general and consider how participation in consortia may influence patterns of individual campaign giving. They will also use cross-state and national data to evaluate the influence of consortium-supported organizations on policy agendas, group activities, and legislation relevant to economic inequality.

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