RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

"Uh-huh. The sound you hear is the world's smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions. 'Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multimillionaires and billionaires?'"

David H. Koch in 1996. He and his brother Charles are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes. (photo: Richard Schulman/Corbis)
David H. Koch in 1996. He and his brother Charles are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes. (photo: Richard Schulman/Corbis)

Pity the Poor Billionaires

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Moyers and Co.

01 June 12


e had the perfect headline all picked out for this piece but our colleague Paul Waldman at The American Prospect magazine beat us to the punch:

"It's Hard Out There for a Billionaire."

You see, according to, the so-called "mega-donors," unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year's political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates -- and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

"Quit picking on us" is part of Politico's headline. Their article says that the mega-donors' "six- and seven-figure contributions have... bought them nothing but grief."

This is definitely not what they had in mind. In their view, cutting a million-dollar check to try to sway the presidential race should be just another way to do their part for democracy, not a fast-track to the front page.

Uh-huh. The sound you hear is the world's smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions. "Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multimillionaires and billionaires?' Paul Waldman asks.

Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive... America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.

Last month, an Obama website cited eight mega-donors to Mitt Romney's campaign as possessing "less-than-reputable records." Among them was Frank VanderSloot, a Romney national finance co-chairman who has raised millions for the campaign. He's a rancher -- with 110,448 acres, on which he no doubt roams playing "This Land is Your Land" on his little Stradivarius -- and CEO of the billion-dollar company Melaleuca, which Rolling Stone describes as "a 'multilevel marketing' firm based in Idaho that sells off-brand cleaning products and nutritional supplements."

VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. "You go back to the Dark Ages," VanderSloot said, "when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else -- watch this -- watch what we do to the guy who did this."

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an "enemies list," conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits. But despite protestations to the contrary, these deep-pocketed plutocrats aren't shelling out the shekels for the love of flag, Mom and apple pie (or tarte tatin, as they call it in the swanky joints).

"Most of the megadonors backing [Romney's] candidacy are elderly billionaires," Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. "Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy -- and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent." As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an "investment," plain and simple.

Dickinson claims that what VanderSloot specifically seeks are, "Fewer consumer protections. The FDA has rebuked Melaleuca for making 'false and misleading' claims about its supplements, and the company has signed a consent decree agreeing to 'not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid.' VanderSloot is also an anti-gay crusader: He tried to kill a PBS program for promoting 'the homosexual lifestyle,' and gave big bucks to pass California's ban on same-sex marriage." (Maybe that's why Mitt has called for privatizing PBS, admitting he's eager to see commercials on Sesame Street!)

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent of venal self-interest -- many of them are all too ready to leap to the music of the ATM, too. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

For evidence of the bipartisan nature of avarice, all you need to do is leap into your Wayback Machine and dial back less than twelve hours before Politico's story of angst among the generous upper classes. This time, the headline reads, "Bill would give bank a $300M benefit."

Seems the Emigrant Bank, based here in New York City, needs a loophole. "At issue is an arcane provision in the Dodd-Frank law setting out how much capital banks are required to have and in what form," Politico reported. "Emigrant, the nation's largest privately owned bank, currently has $10.5 billion in assets, according to its chief regulatory officer, Richard Wald."

At one point during the financial meltdown, Emigrant borrowed money that by the end of 2009 raised its worth beyond $15 billion. This triggered a Dodd-Frank provision requiring the bank to liquidate some of its assets.

Enter New York Republican Congressman Michael Grimm who, with the bipartisan backing of members of the House Financial Services Committee, including Democratic ranking member Barney Frank (as in Dodd-Frank), introduced a one-sentence bill -- that's right, one sentence -- moving the cut off date to March 31, 2010, when the banks assets had slipped back under $15 million. This will create a savings for Emigrant of $300 million in capital.

Emigrant has come a long way since it was founded in 1850 as a savings bank for newly arrived Irish émigrés. Now Howard Milstein, whose family is worth an estimated $3.8 billion, owns it. He was a bundler for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and a major contributor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Politico's John Bresnahan writes,

The Milsteins, along with business associates and other family members, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both GOP and Democratic lawmakers over the past decade. Along with Grimm, New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Carolyn McCarthy and Gregory Meeks -- all co-sponsors of the bill -- have received $11,500 in donations from the Milsteins this cycle.

What's more, over the last two years, "The Milsteins have retained high-powered lobbying help to bolster their push for congressional action, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars," including a firm which counts among its partners former New York Republican Senator Al D'Amato, whose career in Congress was but prelude to his lucrative retirement as a hustler for the mighty.

All of which leads to one last headline, via the Reuters news service on Thursday: "House panel votes to give New York bank a break." The tally was 35-15.

And the plutocrats cried all the way to the bank.

Watch Moyers & Company weekly on public television (check your local listings), and catch even more Moyers Moments at your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+100 # freeportguy 2012-06-01 18:22
"America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded": now they know how teachers and other civil servants feel... The only difference: billionaires all still have their jobs and billions.
+32 # hd70642 2012-06-02 04:44
There is only six ways to obtain money marketable service, marketable skills, marketable product,theft/s windling , and gambling and Inheirtance .These Kroch Brothers have not clue of what a honest days work is about . They have their spent lives gambling and swindling and mostly of all inheirting their money
+4 # gzuckier 2012-06-03 21:09
Hey, who remembers the "lucky duckies who make so little they pay no taxes" meme?

You've got to feel sorry for those poor 100 or so richest people in America. If only they could figure out some way to join all the poor people who don't have all these problems...
+67 # Progressive Texas Democrat 2012-06-01 18:53
" ... have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each."
Explaining to one who give, and one who receives, donations of this size the potential harm it does to the democratic process is as useful an endeavor as nailing Jell-O to a tree.
+12 # John Steinsvold 2012-06-01 22:53
An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
+23 # PABLO DIABLO 2012-06-01 23:58
Bill --- when are you going to run for president? We need you.
-55 # brucbaker 2012-06-01 23:59
The SOLUTION to this political donation is so simple ... EDUCATE YOURSELF TO THE FACTS and no matter how a candidate SPINS the facts .. YOU KNOW WHAT THE FACTS ARE!

Why this ridiculous tirade by Bill Moyers? Educate yourself to one fact .. THIS IS HOW HE MAKES HIS LIVING... supposedly informing you of just enough facts to have you come around to what his opinion is. WHAT DID HE LEAVE OUT? That ... is up to you to go find... funny how that works .. isn't it?
+20 # joestecher 2012-06-02 11:42
Tell us, "bruc," what did Mr. Moyers omit? I'm anxious to hear. "Educate" me, please.
+21 # pernsey 2012-06-02 15:02
Quoting joestecher:
Tell us, "bruc," what did Mr. Moyers omit? I'm anxious to hear. "Educate" me, please.

Im sure Fox News omits plenty of facts, but yet people lap up their nonsense like starving puppies. Fox is fake news, fake facts, and fake right wing nonsense. I will take what Bill M says over some spin machine right wing liars.
+8 # unitedwestand 2012-06-03 19:31
Considering that it has already been proven a couple of times that people that listen to FOX are less informed than if they didn't listen to ANY news, you've got a point and then some.
-1 # wwwes 2012-06-03 03:04
"ridiculous tirade by Bill Moyers?"

Well, that's an oxymoron, excitable one... please "educate your[OWN]self" before parading your left-field right-wing biases.

And use the shift key once in a while, babe.
+3 # gzuckier 2012-06-03 21:10
You left out the part where you tell us what he left out.
+1 # noitall 2012-06-05 17:32
Anothher sad fact brucbaker, they are granted the rights to use the People's air waves and they use that resource to mis-inform the people or otherwise choose what is newsworthy and what should be hidden, making it near impossible to "educate yourself" AND NOW they're using their resources to make the only means that we have to "educate ourselves", the internet, a manipulated joke and a source to legally end privacy. Have you ever tried to "educate yourself" by watching the evening news? Nothing of substance is reported. All these issues and shenanigans that we should be hearing about to form intelligent opinions are unreported, all influenced by $$$$$.
+13 # haole guy 2012-06-02 03:29
Who Owns America? You got it!
+20 # hd70642 2012-06-02 04:32
You would think if they could dispose of all that cash to avoid payings ,taxes would the last thing they would worry about . It seems the wealthy uses their wealth to show how wealthy they are or obtain more wealth .Really they have inheirted most of their stash how much more do they need ?
+27 # jammer5 2012-06-02 04:46
The koch kartel even has a web page where they whine about all the negative attention they get. The whole family is nuckin futz.
+15 # hd70642 2012-06-02 08:46
George Orwell once said those that control the past control the future. As long the Hoaratio Algiers myth exist and the 19 th century is heralded as some lost Utopiea /eden instead of the third world abomonimable mess it really was. The venomus land of oportunity /life is what you make it myth will continue to haunt this nation far worst than any ghost in any horror flick! Amazing the Krock brothers did a lot business with those evil commies.Doing business with folks you find morally offensive is either a scam or swindle not legitmit bussiness
+25 # jammer5 2012-06-02 04:50
And you can bet if the republicans take control of the house, senate and presidency, they'll make it a federal crime to reveal the names of any super donors.
+41 # sapereaudeprime 2012-06-02 05:19
This kind of wealth accumulation is a classical symptom of impending class war. It is what destroyed the Greek democracies and the Roman Republic. Increasingly, we are forced to choose between serfdom and violent self-defense against these amoral predators. Tragic. When my ancestors came here, greed was punishable by public humiliation, and generosity was a laudable virtue. When incorporation started in New England, aspiring corporations had to convince the colonial or state legislature that their incorporation would benefit the people at large. Now a century of corporate termite behavior has reversed the values of the founding fathers; greed is a virtue, and altruism a vice. Pray that this may not end in a class war that destroys the Republic.
+17 # joestecher 2012-06-02 11:45
For my part, anyway, I don't think "Prayer" is going to do much. We must fight, each in his/her own way, to regain the values that have been lost.
+2 # neohip 2012-06-03 16:05
or restores the Republic.
+9 # cordleycoit 2012-06-02 06:05
It would be interesting to watch the antics of the Koch Bros as they rule Lincoln Center. You know they bought a bridge in Colorado? The one on Brooklyn was too expensive. They also bought a resort or tourist trap called 'Buckskin Joe's.' The brige stays over the Royal Gorge the town they moved to a more secure location.
Not to worry they are rewriting history and putting a new ending on Atlas Shrugged high in the mountains of Colorado.
It is said they will be moving Lincoln Center to Alama Colorado as soon as they get the bricks numbered.
+13 # jc Atlanta 2012-06-02 06:31
With the possible exception of the US in the years of Abraham Lincoln, can anyone think of any country at any time in which political power and money did not sleep together?
+3 # wwwes 2012-06-03 03:08
Yes, George Washington's farewell after the end of the revolution, when George III called him the greatest man in the world. That's all silly and naive to the giants of today.
+3 # gzuckier 2012-06-03 21:18
Well, the Founding Fathers were students of history, and saw how Rome started out as an admirable Republic where the average citizen was a model of patriotism and other virtues; they wished to model the US on that but avoid the downfall part, where it ended up as an Empire, wealthy but rotten with greed. Not sure that it worked.... Anyway, look up "Cincinattus"
+31 # walt 2012-06-02 06:32
How long will the country tolerate all these folks peacefully while asking for change we can believe in? These are the seeds of serious revolt among people struggling to survive while the wealthy use their money and power against them.
Citizens United must be overturned and government of, by, and for the people needs to be firmly established. We sure don't have it now!
+30 # Bev 2012-06-02 07:03
And until the Tea Baggers and the rest of the country wakes up it will only get worse. Most voters seem to think Obama has control of everything, as if he had dictatorial powers, and he gets the blame. It is the Banksters et al who have enslaved us and they are not yet finished!
+29 # humanmancalvin 2012-06-02 07:10
Taking a break from packing up my foreclosed house before the eviction date & I read about these sniveling billionaires, not doing a happy dance. The GOP & these ultra wealthy will allow this country & its regular citizens to bottom out as long as they get theirs. And yours & mine. For all that is sane: Obama/Biden 2012.
+33 # Citizen Mike 2012-06-02 07:42
If you want to play politics in a "free country" which has a "free press," you must expect to be publicly identified and your actions and background made known. Foolish to expect otherwise.

Interesting to compare these sneaky-minded billionaires on the right with left-leaning benefactors like Soros and Buffet, who are right out in the open with nothing to hide.

No human being, of any class, is exempt from scrutiny and criticism.
+25 # Glen 2012-06-02 07:51
It is more than being thin skinned. It is having a plan to control the U.S. There is little to be done about it because the money just keeps coming and the U.S. government continues to allow it to happen because they are number one in THE PLAN.

Welcome to extreme capitalism. It was pretty much inevitable in a country this size and with a history of extreme wealth. Now, of course, we are morphing into a completely different system and citizens have little control over the methods of that new system.
+8 # Martintfre 2012-06-02 07:52
One of the things Citizens united ended was the ban on non party political activity two months before a general election and one month before a primary.

only politicians (McCain-Fingold ) would make a law that deemed it illegal for non party hacks to get involved in elections.
+14 # fredboy 2012-06-02 07:59
They are used to being "above" others and always having their way. When ripples appear on their waters they become quite disturbed.
+19 # 1984 2012-06-02 10:12
I for one cannot understand what these kind of people (i,e, millionaires and billionaires)ar e and why they want more and more andmore and more! I just don't get it. Are they all sociopaths???
+12 # tswhiskers 2012-06-02 11:49
No, they are all narcisissists who think they have a plutocratic right to have whatever they want because they can pay for it.
+6 # gzuckier 2012-06-03 21:20
What can you have that the superrich can never have? Answer: enough.
-18 # forparity 2012-06-02 10:17
About the wealth of the Forbes 400.

Their combined net worth adds up to $1.53 Trillion.

It's up 12% this year - probably the biggest jump since Clinton was President.

Now - if we took all of their wealth; and, that includes their property, investments, business interests (that would close the businesses and perhaps 100's of thousands, if not more, folks would loose their jobs - overnight), we'd be able to pay the deficit (est at $1.2 - $1.3 Trillion) this year - and have a little change left over. The total spending for 2012 is est to be around $3.8 Trillion.

Now - about next year. Well, simply put, it's over with. None of them - unless they start a new business (with what?) or go out and get a job (where?) will be paying any income taxes, or any capital gains taxes, or any payroll taxes, or any tax on dividends or interest.

There will be no corporate tax collected from their collapsed businesses, nor from the laid off EE's who collecting unemployment checks. Their property's have been dropped into a bad market, further driving down R/E prices, and thus prop tax rev will fall again.

So - we can balance the budget one time only - but next year the deficit will soar - perhaps to over $2 Trillion - then to ?

Out here in CA, far- left Progressive Karen Bass (former CA speaker), noted that 400 individuals paid over half of the state income tax collected.

Time for tax reform.
+20 # BobboMax 2012-06-02 14:06
"Out here in CA, far- left Progressive Karen Bass (former CA speaker), noted that 400 individuals paid over half of the state income tax collected."

That's a provocative, but meaningless remark until we know the net worth of these 400 individuals relative to the rest of the state and how they achieved that net worth. The odds are good the valiant 400 have 2/3 of the wealth and income in CA. If they didn't inherit it, they are likely to have made their money at public expense. See Elizabeth Warren's remarks for a tutorial on that.
+22 # jwb110 2012-06-02 12:15
These guys spend billions to elect officials but balk at paying at paying what amounts to less tax to the Republic. They're not just buying the officials. They're buying the Nation.
If that isn't as plain as the ass on a goat, I don't know what is.
+13 # Jbeezz 2012-06-02 13:02
The problem is not only with the Banksters, Wall Street gamblers, millionaires and billionaires…
The biggest problem lies with the Congressional whores who take their money and lie down and ***k us.
These old men who have been in power for decades need to be kicked out of those congressional seats in the House and Senate and made to go find real work.

This problem CAN be solved by not electing the same criminals whose greed is destryoing the country.

We need to end the gigantic salaries, perks and insider trading on financial information by electing people who care more about their country than their pocketbooks.

Vote in the primaries where REAL choice happens and vote out the whores of the corporate "people" and the already too wealthy.
0 # Martintfre 2012-06-05 11:16

Before your going to be able to clean house - ya have to be able to tell a clean house from a dirty one.

We must be able to answer a simple question:
What is the minimum legitimate function of government?

- If there is no common answer on that I can guarantee the house will never ever get cleaned cause we have no idea what a clean house looks like, the ongoing battle of competing interest will go on and on till bankruptcy sinks the whole deal.
+17 # BobboMax 2012-06-02 14:01
Interesting sidelight- most of these SuperPACs are 501c4's, technically "Social Welfare" organizations, which is valid if you have a sufficiently narrow definition of Social Welfare. The interesting part is that donations to these social welfare organizations are generally tax-deductible- they are, after all, trying to educate the innocent public to the horrors of, say, ObamaCare, certainly a laudable goal. On the other hand, my donations to the lobbying arm of ACLU aren't deductible, because they're trying to influence legislation!
+5 # gzuckier 2012-06-03 21:05
"The sound you hear is the world's smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions."

Not from me, I had to sell mine to make the mortgage payment.
+6 # Hey There 2012-06-03 21:51
And the inequality widens. Laws are passed in Congress for the benefit of the rich to the detriment of the middle class and the poor.
Currently HR2309 and S1789 which propose to downsize the postal workforce by 100,000, decrease compensation for injured workers,end it for injured workers over 65,weaken union contracts which are already weakened by a no strike clause,and have a company insurance plan(the USPS) to replace the options currently in place.
The public will have rural post offices closed or hours shortened and mail service delayed due to 200+ distribution closures.

And SOME senators and legislators are "Working Hard" so workers and injured workers don't "game the system" who make far less than Congress Members do.
If their goals are realized the gap will become wider yet as tromping down what the Postal Employees have now will affect the rights and wages of all workers.

We need more senators like the 37 who voted against S1789 to close the gap.
0 # ghostperson 2012-07-16 17:35
Is it true that only one senator needs to put a hold on a bill in order to prevent it from moving forward?

If that is the case then we need to find a single senator to support who is a progressive to be the gatekeeper or rather gate closer for welfare acts for the 1% and corporate America.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.