plu•toc•ra•cy / ploōˈtäkrəsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth. Government by the wealthy.
Before the 2012 presidential campaign, how many of us were familiar with the names Charles, David or William Koch; Sheldon Adelson, Richard DeVos, Alice Walton, Harold Simmons, Foster Friess, Bob Perry, Frank Vandersloot, Bill or Richard Marriott; John Schnatter or any of the other wealthiest Republican donors? Most of us know the connection between John Schnatter and Papa John's Pizza; few of us know the others and what they mean to our future. This lack of knowledge could be costly to us.
These individuals have pursued varied careers, but are united by their condition of great wealth. They're also united with the common purpose of creating a political environment that will protect their great wealth and shape public and political opinion regarding social issues they wish to promote. Common to their value system is the belief that their money and socio-economic position give them the right and authority to greater influence over shaping the direction of the country for us all. While most of us were indignant at the "47% Percent" comments of Mitt Romney, the "makers vs. takers" comments of Paul Ryan or the general disdain of the Republican Party for "the common person," similar sentiments were reflected in the words and deeds of these wealthy Republican donors.
The words of Foster Friess which gave public voice to the Republican "War on Women" was a glaring example. In an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, Friess offered a Republican alternative to health insurance provided "birth control." He said that, in his day, women held aspirin between their knees to prevent pregnancy! As a spokesperson and campaign donor of over $1million, he demonstrated his goal of defining the Republican agenda in words and deeds.
There are reasons of friendship that motivate some of the large donations made by individuals on my list. For example, there is a greater likelihood that donations of the Marriott brothers to the Romney campaign were based on friendship rather than another motivation. The fathers of Romney and the Marriotts were close friends. Romney was named to honor J. Willard Marriott. We can't, however, discount the fact that, for these men, friendship and financial interest are held in common. The Marriott brothers are reported to have spent $1.5 million in campaign donations.
On the other hand, the multi- million dollar donations of billionaire casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, were nearly triple the previous highest amount donated by an individual. In early disclosures filed with the FEC, Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, and his wife contributed millions of dollars, mostly to Super PACs backing Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and party peers running for seats in the Senate and House. Presumably much of his money went into tax-exempt organizations not required to disclose donors. Early in the process, Adelson told Politico he planned to spend up to $100 million or "whatever it takes" to defeat President Barack Obama. Analysts have surmised that Adelson's motivation for his more than generous donations to Republican interests was to eliminate the potential for Department of Justice scrutiny of his gambling operations in China. By the way, it is said he recouped his campaign spending in one day!
Giving greater scrutiny to the motives of some of the wealthy attempting to reshape the U.S. into their own image, we can't discount more insidious motives for their generosity. A thorough discussion of their motives cannot be accomplished in a single column. In future columns, I will revisit the motives and impact of these U.S. plutocrats. As for us, never forget that to whom we give our money, we also give our power—so spend it wisely.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788.