MoJo 400 Central (1997)

The 1997 Mother Jones 400

April 1997

Jane Huang was the "homemaker" who ranked #262 on last year's Mother Jones 400. Although few suspected that her husband John's fundraising for the Democratic National Committee would become part of a national scandal, the very size of her combined $66,000-plus in contributions should have given pause.

Similarly, this year's list, covering the 1995-96 election cycle, provides clues to future campaign scandals. With gifts to the political parties virtually unregulated, huge donations have become outrageously common. The current rankings are based on such "soft money" gifts as well as contributions to federal candidates and political action committees. They do not include money spent on the renting of lobbyists or the fueling of sophisticated public relations campaigns through so-called independent expenditures.

True, the likes of Apple founder Steve Jobs (#128) or Barbra Streisand (#369) appear to have contributed out of charity or vanity. But big donors are more often motivated by the need for a legislative or regulatory fix. Take David H. Koch (#10), an oil magnate who spread around scads of cash to block tougher EPA regulations of a type of air pollution that may cause 40,000 premature deaths each year. Or investment banker and fundamentalist Foster Friess (#14), who pursues favorable treatment of mutual funds when he's not helping run a cabal that shapes GOP policy.

On the opposite curb of this shakedown street stand fundraisers like Terry McAuliffe. He likes to stress that he worked for President Clinton rather than the troubled DNC. But our profile of him (see "Big Game Hunter") reveals otherwise and demonstrates the blurry moral character of the status quo.

That both parties play the big-money game offers no consolation to voters. An unacceptable corrosion occurs when the influence of donors so clearly trumps that of average citizens. But reform is possible: The proposals in "Reform School" would increase both transparency and accountability. Crisis breeds opportunity, and rather than being enervated by the current scandals, we should seize this rare chance to shift power from the bigwigs to the electorate.

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MoJo 400 articles

Big Game Hunter
Meet Terry McAuliffe, the man who created Clinton's fundraising monster.

Sugar Daddie$
Cuban-born sugar magnate José Fanjul can't vote, but he -- and his family -- sure can donate!

Oil Slick
This donor's oil business is fighting EPA clean air regulations by paying others to do its dirty work.

Especially Interested
Meet two senators who voted on legislation that affected special interests -- their own.

Reform School What we all need to know about campaign finance reform.