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Yes, liberal billionaires outspent conservative billionaires in the midterms -- but that's only part of the story

By David Holmes , written on December 29, 2014

From The News Desk

Earlier today, below a very evil-looking photo of a very rich Michael Bloomberg, Politico published a list of the top ten political donors of 2014. And much to the glee of conservatives, the two biggest spenders by a mile were hedge fund partner Tom Steyer and ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg -- both supporters of predominantly liberal causes.

https://twitter.com/joshgreenman/status/549700161954660352

This caused a special kind of schadenfreude for Republicans, who feel they are constantly under attack for being rich, election-buying old men. And on the surface, it makes for a compelling argument. After all, conservative bogeymen like Sheldon Adelson and David Koch, who raised $13.2 million and $6.2 million respectively, are left in the dust by Steyer's $74.3 million and Bloomberg's $27.7 million.

But the truth is far more complicated. That's because donations by individuals make up only a fraction of the total campaign hauls for candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), outside groups like Super PACs and nonprofits donated more than $539 million in the last midterm elections. That outpaces the top 100 individual donors who together spent $323 million. (An additional $356 million was donated by people who gave $200 or less).

To complicate matters even further, a huge amount of that cash is known as "dark money." That means it's first funneled through a special kind of non-profit so the source of the funds do not have to be disclosed. The CRP reports that "at least" $219 million of the donations made in the last election cycle came from these groups. And while the specific individuals, corporations, or unions behind these donations is unknown, 69 percent of these undisclosed donations came from conservative-leaning groups.

That doesn't mean liberals are off the hook for excessive spending on elections. And conservatives are right that the perception that Republicans vastly outspend Democrats is not a balanced narrative. But it's equally disingenuous to claim that, because the top two individual donors -- who are both liberal -- outspent the next eight combined, liberals vastly outspend conservatives. Earlier I wrote that the truth was more complicated, but it's actually far simpler: money corrupts politics, especially when it's undisclosed, and everyone is terrible.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]