In this, our third annual Mother Jones 400, you’ll see how the wealthy enjoy more than their fair share of access to politicians because of the money they spend, and how that access appears to help their businesses. You’ll also see how the occasional big contributor, such as No. 4 Carl Lindner, gives so much money that his largesse transcends ideology and he wields equal power in both parties.
But what’s truly surprising is how the die-hard deep pockets manage to drag others into the political circus.
Our No. 1, Amway power couple Richard M. and Helen DeVos, head a politically active family that boasts openly about its quid pro quo giving. More interesting than their blunt $1 million gift is the thousands of dollars trickling into congressional campaigns from the Amway salespeople. They give, according to one woman we spoke with, because “[Amway leaders] really encourage us with the money we make through the business to use it to support the things we believe in.” And while No. 3 Bernard L. Schwartz (of aerospace giant Loral) certainly deserves scrutiny for the more than $1 million he’s given to Democrats this decade, a MOTHER JONES investigation, which we will release shortly, shows that thousands of former Pentagon officials have left the government for cushy jobs in the defense industry, making a fast and profitable transformation from public servant to political special interest.
The most unlikely politico we found is probably Edward Tamez, who works at the Outback Steakhouse in Campbell, California, and gives $5.75 every other week to his company’s political action committee — all deducted from his paycheck after he was asked to do so by his manager. Outback, with the largest company PAC in the restaurant industry, relies heavily on employee gifts so it can push an agenda that’s not necessarily in the best interest of restaurant employees, such as a cap on the minimum wage and opposition to a national health care plan. For some Outback employees, the contributions are their only political involvement, made to make the boss happy: “I’ve never voted in my life,” says Devin Nelson, who contributed more than $300 during his two years as an Outback kitchen manager.
It might be the perfect metaphor: While the audience for the political circus continues to dwindle, more people than ever before are becoming its unwilling participants.
List compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics
Reported by Jennifer Liberto, Aaron Rothenburger, John Zebrowski, and Jenna Ziman.
The MoJo 400 reflects contributions made from January 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998, and reported to the FEC as of September 1, 1998. The list contains only contributions made by individuals. It includes both hard and soft money contributions.