by Christopher Gage
Last year, as the Democratic nomination fight fired up, America’s billionaires endured a short-lived social leprosy.
As they always have done, then-frontrunners Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) railed against the ruling class. Yet, this time the class warfare rhetoric found succour not only among convincing swathes of left-leaning Americans, but even some of the Right’s most notable such as Tucker Carlson.
Sanders and Warren, then considered the new beating heart of a Democratic Party just months from a full transplant, felt little inclination to dial down their mortaring of America’s moneyed.
Both boasted to their warping crowds of their financial cleanliness. To take donations from billionaires—those whom both attested were and remain the source of American sickliness—was akin to pocketing blood-speckled dollar bills.
Conventional wisdom assumed Bernie’s no-cigar 2016 bid had mainlined his radical “democratic socialism” into the vein work of the Democratic Party—“We are all Bernie now.”
Warren had a “plan for everything.” Her own brand of radicalism found unlikely admirers at times, including Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, and perhaps many of his viewers. Critics of and sympathizers with anti-corporate capitalism now share a spiritual plane with Warren and many they’d previously regarded as being on the other team.
Previous unsayables, such as a wealth tax on the richest Americans, has found majority support.
A key plank of Warren’s campaign proposed such a tax, scissoring two percent a year from Americans worth over $50 million, rising to three percent on billionaires.
Bernie’s plan went deeper. Those worth north of $32.1 million would pay one percent per year, with an additional percentage point clipping those bracketed above. Americans worth $2.6 billion or more would pay six percent—double Warren’s highest rate. Worth over $10.1 billion? Bernie’s plan would snip eight percent.
A majority of Americans supported Warren’s wealth tax, even more so than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y) 70 percent levy on those making over $10 million a year.
Follow the Big Money
Back then, it was Bernie’s time. Not only had he won the argument, but Bernie’s 2016 campaign had also transformed the Democratic Party.
Following February’s Nevada caucuses, Bernie and Warren led the pack, punctuating their dominance with skin-hardening play fights ahead of the inevitable battle to unseat the president. Warren enjoyed spates of insurgency, only to tap out through her own self-constricting donnishness.
That was February, in a year swirled with a generation of assured new histories.
Perhaps, the Democratic Party’s war machine feared Bernie with similar petrification as America’s billionaires feared Warren and her wealth tax. The brahmins paved a marble path for Joe Biden, while Bernie’s canter slicked dry.
Those billionaires seem to like Joe Biden and his vice-presidential pick, Kamala Harris.
Her brief candidacy resembled a clearing house for the billionaire class—47 of its members.
In its first two months, the junior senator from California and her “For The People” campaign took more money from billionaires than the rest of the Democratic field, including donations from Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder, and Salesforce mogul Marc Benioff.
At the time, Joe Biden placed third with the backing of 44 billionaires, just one behind Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Kamala’s rise from 29-year-old lawyer to darling of the Bay Area machine depended on the finance and favor of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights powerbase—a storied neighborhood and home to $40 million mansions, as well as Democratic high priests Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Gavin Newsom.
The big money steamed in. Two-thirds of Kamala’s donors came from California’s ritziest ZIP codes, home to tech titans and Hollywood moguls. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg chipped in. One-third of Kamala’s cash came from the giants of finance. Another quarter from Silicon Valley fortune.
In May 2019, San Francisco oil billionaires Gordon and Ann Getty held a fundraiser at their mansion on “Billionaire’s Row” reputed to be the world’s wealthiest stretch of tarmac. The cost to RSVP was reportedly $28,000 a head.
Billionaires Switched From Harris to Biden
Before the Iowa caucuses, Kamala’s campaign flamed out. Yet, the billionaire donations to the Democratic cause burned molten-hot, melting the thermometer when Harris got the vice-presidential nod.
Her billionaires swiveled their siphons to Joe Biden. By January 2020, 66 of America’s richest elites brigaded behind Biden, 10 times the whittling field of the other combined Democrats.
Since April, at least 36 billionaires have donated $100,000 or more to Biden-backing committees and the Democratic National Committee.
The names on the checks are the same as those once landing in Kamala’s campaign accounts. Reid Hoffman has donated $1.5 million to pro-Biden super-PACs and committees. In June, Laurene Powell Jobs gave $610,600. George Lucas’s wife, Mellody Hobson, donated in June $307,800 to the Biden Victory Fund.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Biden’s top 10 donors resemble a roll-call of America’s ruling class, including: Twilio giants Jeff and Erica Lawson ($1.24 million) Chris and Crystal Sacca ($1.23 million) James and Marilyn Simons ($978,400) Mark Pincus ($626,200) Barry Diller ($620,600) Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz ($620,600) Jeff Skoll ($620,600) Laurene Powell Jobs ($610,600) George Soros ($505,600) and Meg Whitman ($505,600).
Working-Class Rhetoric, Elite Action
Federal campaign finance laws allow individuals to donate up to $5,600 directly to the Biden campaign. Yet, donations max out at $620,600 to the Biden Victory Fund, and up to $360,000 to the Biden Action Fund.
Since April, $90 million has flooded the Biden Victory Fund, 10 percent coming from the checkbooks of billionaires. Another $12 million has funneled into the Biden Action Fund.
Big money in U.S. politics is nothing new. But the cross-party migration of America’s ruling class has upticked since the 1990s, reflecting the Democratic Party’s mutation from the party of working and middle-class Americans, to the preferred home of billionaires.
The Republican Party has long been seared by Democrats as the “party of the rich.” Yet, a blood swap of the two has been underway for decades, quickening with President Trump’s 2016 win.
Just two weeks ago, Joe Biden trotted out a once-familiar Democratic line in keeping with his party’s historical allyship with blue-collared and middle-class Americans.
In Wisconsin, Biden told an audience of aluminum plant workers: “You matter.”
He continued: “I don’t want to punish anybody, but instead of just rewarding wealth in this country, it’s about time we start to reward work.”
Such a statement would not be out of place in the old Democratic Party. Today, the audience would find themselves more numerous within the GOP. America’s college-educated classes were once reliably Republican.
Now, those without a college degree are more likely to vote for Republicans, while America’s knowledge economy workers are firmly Democratic in their voting patterns.
Between 2008 and Trump’s election, the Democratic share of white voters without a college degree crashed. In 2008, Republican John McCain took 11 points more among voters making $50,000 or more per year than those earning half that.
By 2016, Trump did nine points better among Americans with a college degree than he did among those without.
White voters with college degrees voted for Democratic candidates in 2018’s House elections by 53 percent to 45 percent.
This shift contrasts with the Bernie-Warren wing of the Democratic Party, whose antipathy toward billionaires seemed set for the nomination.
Both Bernie Sanders and his ideological protégé Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have questioned whether a moral society should even tolerate such wealth: “Billionaires should not exist.”
Yet, neither is on the ballot. The billionaires who do exist aren’t on the ballot, either. Their money is.
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Christopher Gage is a British political journalist.
Photos “Joe Biden” by The White House and “Kamala Harris” by U.S. Senate. Background Photo “The White House” by Sean Hayford Oleary. CC BY 2.0.