Under the Dome

SUNDAY DOME: A long lament – little donor diversity

It should not be a surprise that the biggest contributors to political campaigns are wealthy white men. But a number of researchers have been taking a closer look at what that means in a democracy.

Last month, The New York Times dissected the data and found that almost half the money – $176 million – that has been spent on the ongoing presidential campaigns comes from 158 families.

The findings echo the make-up of a “donor class” documented as far back as 20 years ago by the Joyce Foundation, which found that 95 percent of contributors were white, 80 percent were men, and 81 percent had incomes of more than $100,000.

Let’s just say things haven’t changed much.

In North Carolina, a new report by the Institute for Southern Studies finds:

▪ 95 percent of the largest contributors in the state are white. Their contributions amounted to 97 percent of the $4.4 million given.

▪ Two-thirds of North Carolina’s biggest donors are male.

▪ Most of the state’s big donors live in or near the urban centers of the Triangle, Charlotte or the Triad.

The Institute for Southern Studies, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, overlays those numbers with a demographic context in arguing that there’s a big disconnect between the donor class the rest of the state:

▪ While 95 percent of the biggest donors to federal races are while, 65 percent of the state’s population is white.

▪ Just 29 percent of the biggest donors are non-white. They contributed only 3 percent of all donations from the largest donors, about $145,000.

“This report drives home a huge divide between the donor class in North Carolina and our state’s increasingly diverse communities,” lead author Alex Kotch said in a statement accompanying the study. “It shows how leveling the playing field in elections can play a big role in expanding equal access in our democracy.”

While groups like the Institute for Southern Studies push for election financing reforms to counter the disproportionate impact of special interest money, the prevailing argument is that that spending money on a candidate or cause is a fundamental right – it is encapsulated in the nation’s protection of free speech.

The metrics in the North Carolina study were a review of the 574 largest contributors in seven races: the five most expensive U.S. House races in 2014, the U.S. Senate battle between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis last year, and contributors to the 2016 presidential race as of June.

Digging a little deeper into the report finds the top 10 North Carolina donors in those races. Topping that list is businessman and conservative Citivas Institute board chairman Bob Luddy, who gave $271,000. Second was SAS founder and CEO James Goodnight, at $262,600.

Of the institute’s Top 10 list, eight are Republicans and two are Democrats.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

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Latest Elon Poll result

Elon University’s latest poll shows former surgeon Ben Carson favored among Republicans in North Carolina. Hillary Clinton continues to lead Democrats comfortably in the state.

Republican preferences

Ben Carson: 31 percent

Donald Trump: 19 percent

Undecided: 12 percent

Marco Rubio: 10 percent

Ted Cruz: 10 percent

Jeb Bush: 5 percent

Carly Fiorina: 3 percent

Mike Huckabee: 3 percent

Rand Paul: 2 percent

Chris Christie: 2 percent

Other: 2 percent

John Kasich: 1 percent

Lindsey Graham: 1 percent

Bobby Jindal: 0 percent

George Pataki: 0 percent

Rick Santorum: 0 percent