Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gave a speech yesterday on the floor of the Senate. It was his first floor speech since the end of the August recess. As The Hill reports it, he said, in part,
“We have had in this country a flood of very, very dark money coming into this nation’s political system,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Radical billionaires are attempting to buy our democracy.”Reid is correct in his statement - just not in the billionaires to whom he referred. He, of course, was continuing his jihad against the libertarian Koch brothers.
However, if one were to examine the backers of the universal background check initiative in Washington State, I-594, you would come to the conclusion that a gaggle of billionaires was indeed trying to buy "our democracy."
Examining the public reports from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, one finds that a full 72% of the funding for the anti-gun Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has come from five billionaires (including spouses) plus one very wealthy woman from an "old Seattle family". In dollar terms, these six have donated $5,171,600 out of the $7,175,542 donated to the anti-gun organization. Small contributions to this gun control ballot initiative total only $63,009 or less than 1% of the total.
So who are these billionaires (or near billionaires), how much have they given individually, what is their estimated net worth, and where do they stand on the Forbes 400 list of richest people in America. Here is the list in order of contributions:
- Nick Hanauer, $1,485,000; net worth $1 billion, venture capitalist, Second Avenue Investing
- Bill and Melinda Gates, $1,050,000; net worth $72 billion, No. 1 Forbes 400, co-founder Microsoft
- Michael Bloomberg*, $1,030,000; net worth $31 billion, No. 10 Forbes 400, founder Bloomberg LP
- Connie and Steve Ballmer, $830,000; net worth $18 billion, No. 21 Forbes 400, former CEO Microsoft, owner LA Clippers
- Paul Allen, $500,000; net worth $15.8 billion, No 26 Forbes 400, co-founder Microsoft, owner Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers
- Ann Pigott Wyckoff, $276,600; net worth est. multi-millions, heiress and daughter of the late Paccar Corporation president Paul Pigott. Paccar manufactures Peterbilt, Kenworth, and Leyland trucks.
To put these contributions into perspective, let's look at the campaign committee for I-591 which is the other ballot initiative which opposes universal background checks. Protect Our Gun Rights is the campaign committee formed to support I-591. The largest individual (non-organizational) contribution was $1,500 by a Boeing engineer. The primary contributors to Protect Our Gun Rights are the Washington State-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Washington Arms Collectors. This committee has raised a total of $1,121,535 at last report.
As Dave Workman, the Seattle Gun Rights Examiner, put it, this is a billionaire bombardment and he is correct. So when Dingy Harry speaks of "radical billionaires attempting to buy our democracy", he just has the wrong set of billionaires in mind. It isn't the Koch brothers, it is the Hanauers, the Gates, the Allens, the Ballmers, and the Bloombergs who plan to dominate the TV airwaves with their appeals to low information voters in an effort to impose their will on the people of Washington State.
*Bloomberg's contribution was funneled through MAIG and Everytown for Gun Safety (sic).