The 1998 Mother Jones 400

MOTHER JONES’ third annual survey and searchable database of the country’s top 400 political donors.


In this, our third annual Mother Jones 400, you’ll see how the wealthy enjoy more than their fair share of access to politicians because of the money they spend, and how that access appears to help their businesses. You’ll also see how the occasional big contributor, such as No. 4 Carl Lindner, gives so much money that his largesse transcends ideology and he wields equal power in both parties.

But what’s truly surprising is how the die-hard deep pockets manage to drag others into the political circus.

Our No. 1, Amway power couple Richard M. and Helen DeVos, head a politically active family that boasts openly about its quid pro quo giving. More interesting than their blunt $1 million gift is the thousands of dollars trickling into congressional campaigns from the Amway salespeople. They give, according to one woman we spoke with, because “[Amway leaders] really encourage us with the money we make through the business to use it to support the things we believe in.” And while No. 3 Bernard L. Schwartz (of aerospace giant Loral) certainly deserves scrutiny for the more than $1 million he’s given to Democrats this decade, a MOTHER JONES investigation, which we will release shortly, shows that thousands of former Pentagon officials have left the government for cushy jobs in the defense industry, making a fast and profitable transformation from public servant to political special interest.

State
# of
donors
$ given
% of
total
New York 66 6,322,504 17.62
California 65 5,250,977 14.63
Texas 36 2,830,559 7.89
Massachusetts 26 2,679,862 7.47
Florida 25 2,279,795 6.36
New Jersey 17 1,831,356 5.11
Michigan 12 1,765,825 4.92
Ohio 15 1,572,380 4.38
Pennsylvania 11 1,446,012 4.03
Washington, D.C. 21 1,359,808 3.79
Illinois 15 1,317,228 3.67
Maryland 9 808,088 2.25
Missouri 9 712,213 1.99
Virginia 7 682,550 1.90
Connecticut 10 608,120 1.70
Indiana 3 476,325 1.33
Colorado 5 391,400 1.09
Tennessee 5 384,000 1.07
Nevada 4 309,000 0.86
Arkansas 3 290,900 0.81
Georgia 5 234,525 0.65
Utah 1 232,500 0.65
Kansas 1 224,250 0.63
North Carolina 3 208,700 0.58
Washington 4 177,950 0.50
Arizona 4 172,109 0.48
Wyoming 2 171,000 0.48
Louisiana 3 163,100 0.45
Puerto Rico 2 150,000 0.42
Alabama 2 149,750 0.42
Mississippi 3 117,250 0.33
Oklahoma 1 104,250 0.29
New Hampshire 1 104,000 0.29
Nebraska 2 99,000 0.28
Iowa 1 57,639 0.16
Wisconsin 1 55,000 0.15
New Mexico 1 53,000 0.15
Delaware 1 41,890 0.12
Oregon 1 36,290 0.10
Total   35,871,105  

The most unlikely politico we found is probably Edward Tamez, who works at the Outback Steakhouse in Campbell, California, and gives $5.75 every other week to his company’s political action committee — all deducted from his paycheck after he was asked to do so by his manager. Outback, with the largest company PAC in the restaurant industry, relies heavily on employee gifts so it can push an agenda that’s not necessarily in the best interest of restaurant employees, such as a cap on the minimum wage and opposition to a national health care plan. For some Outback employees, the contributions are their only political involvement, made to make the boss happy: “I’ve never voted in my life,” says Devin Nelson, who contributed more than $300 during his two years as an Outback kitchen manager.

It might be the perfect metaphor: While the audience for the political circus continues to dwindle, more people than ever before are becoming its unwilling participants.

List compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics
Reported by Jennifer Liberto, Aaron Rothenburger, John Zebrowski, and Jenna Ziman.

The MoJo 400 reflects contributions made from January 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998, and reported to the FEC as of September 1, 1998. The list contains only contributions made by individuals. It includes both hard and soft money contributions.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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