Let’s Talk About That “Hillary Donors vs. Bernie Donors” Infographic Meme Thing
This isn’t going to be an article advocating for one candidate over another. The first primary isn’t for, like, seven months, we haven’t even had a debate yet, and signing my name in blood for either candidate this far in advance feels like a thing a crazy person would do. I try my best to minimize the crazy things I do, especially when it comes to picking the next Leader of the Free World (because let’s be real, the Democratic nominee is winning this thing. We all saw that first debate, right? The 21st Century Republican Party is a dumpster fire).
What this article is about is that meme that has become popular amongst Bernie Sanders supporters. You know, this one. The one that claims that HillDog represents “Banks, Corporations and Media,” while Ol’ Bernie represents “People.” These lists are used to support the assertion that Hillary is an “establishment” candidate, while Bernie is the populist candidate.
Let me start out by saying that, generally, political social media is dumb. Social media more often than not values pith and brevity over substance and complexity. Pouring a bucket of ice water over your head for degenerative disease awareness or decrying the murder of a member of an endangered species are made-for-newsfeed stories, because they’re easy to tell in a sentence. “Donate money to ALS research and watch me get wet and cold.” “This douchebag dentist with a gun posing next to a dead cat is a douchebag.”
Politics are rarely that simple. Regardless of what any candidate or their supporters might tell you, the issues we face in this country are complicated and do not have easy solutions. Paradoxically, the American system of governing requires the decisions we make as voters to literally be black and white. This guy or that guy, Establishment or Anti-Establishment, Republican or Democrat, Left or Right, pick a side and stick with it, dammit. We choose and root for our favorite candidates like we choose and root for our favorite sports team.
I’m not necessarily knocking this, by the way. A smattering of “Rah rah go my person, screw your person” political attitudes kinda feel like the wages of democracy, like a very understandable, human reaction to literally turning choosing our leaders into a competition instead of a birthright. But, as we can all probably attest, this tendency leads to a lot of share-trigger-happy people spreading nonsense in the name of making their team look awesome and the other team look atrocious. The nonsense then becomes ubiquitous and generally accepted as truth before anybody gets a chance to fact-check the information and discover that it is, indeed, nonsense. This meme REEKS of that.
My first instinct was that the numbers in the infographic were wrong, because this particular meme had zero references sourcing these figures, and that’s always a bad sign.
It turns out the numbers themselves are actually accurate. Who knew, right? They come from a website called Opensecrets.org, which is run by the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that combs through politicians financial disclosure forms and attempts to parse out where the candidates get their money from. This group is nonpartisan, and is widely accepted to be legit and trustworthy. And, lo and behold, if you take a look at the respective Open Secrets profiles for Hillary and Bernie, you’ll find top donor lists that pretty closely match the lists in that meme, the only difference being that the lists on Open Secrets were updated last week and that meme has been floating around (ala herpes) since early July.
Nonetheless, the meme in question and the conclusions it draws are still bullshit. It fails to frame or contextualize its information. This meme implies, by placing these donor lists next to each other under each candidate’s respective 2016 campaign logos, that these are only 2016 figures. This is not true. As Open Secrets indicates on the top of each candidate’s profile, these are all-time top donors, from the beginning of the candidates’ political career. These are each candidate’s top donors since they started running for stuff.
Let’s start with the size of the figures themselves before we talk about where exactly the money came from, because the pure numerical differences between the two candidates seem to be scary to a lot of people. Why has Hillary raised that much more money than Bernie?
Since 2000, Hillary has run for Senator of New York twice and President twice (including this nascent campaign). Bernie, in the same time period, has run for Vermont House Representative (they only have one) three times, Senator of Vermont twice, and now President once.
So why has Hillary Clinton raised that much more money than Bernie Sanders over the course of their political careers? For starters, Hillary has already done a presidential election cycle. She has a full national campaign under her belt (that is holding up a bitchin’ pants suit, might I add). Her all-time donations are necessarily going to be higher than a guy who has never run for President because even in a perfect, more campaign-finance regulationed world, national campaigns are fucking expensive, or at least exponentially more expensive than state campaigns.
Second, setting aside the national campaigns for a moment, New York is a much bigger state than Vermont, both in terms of geography and population. It costs significantly more money to run a campaign in the state of New York than it does in Vermont. Everyday shit simply costs more in New York. Advertising expenses, travel expenses, real estate expenses, food expenses, the list could go on ad nauseum, but you get the point: A candidate simply needs more money to run a successful political campaign in New York than they do in Vermont.
This leads us to the demographics of the donor lists, the crux of the argument about whom each candidate “represents.” As noted in the methodology section of the Open Secrets website and on the profiles themselves, the organizations listed “themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families.” So it’s not like Citigroup wrote a big, fat, $782,327 check to Hillary. Individual employees, cumulatively, have donated a total of $782,327 to Hillary campaigns since 2000. Well, $8,000 of that is from Citigroup’s PAC. The rest were from people. Bankers, yes, but still just people. The only reason we know these people work at Citigroup is because the FEC requires donors who give over $250 to list their employers (which, I should add, I do think is a good thing).
It’s also worth noting that it’s real easy not to get donations from bankers when you’re the Senator from Vermont because there are no banks in Vermont. In New York, two of the top ten employers are banks, while in Vermont banks are zero of the top fifty employers (if you want a good laugh, take a look at that list and gaze upon the absurd number of Vermontians employed by ski resorts. Vermont is a parody of itself).
Undermining this “Hillary donors are rich people” bunk even further are the recent FEC quarterly filings by each campaign. Yes, 99% of Bernie’s donations are under $250, but 91% of Hillary’s donations are under $100. Both of them would be lost to the deep fathoms of political obscurity without small donations.
For shits and giggles, I took a look at the individual Open Secrets pages for Hillary 2016 and Bernie 2016 that was reported literally last week. Hillary’s top donors? From Morgan & Morgan, consumer protection lawyers based mostly out of Florida (Is Florida important in presidential elections? I forget). Bernie’s top donors? From Google. Yes, that Google. Sure, they’ve given significantly less than Hillary’s top donors, but it’s still Google. It doesn’t get more corporate than fucking Google.
When you look at the facts and figures, the entire premise of this stupid, stupid meme falls apart. And that’s just after examining the facts and figures. Personally, I have a tiny problem equating unions with people. Well, I mean, if corporations are theoretically people, I guess unions are people too, because you can’t just pick and choose which special interest group is “people” just because you like one more than the other. That’s called being a hypocrite. Moreover, bankers are people too, yo, just like union members. They too drink water and breathe air. And if you’re gonna come at me with, “Unions represent nobler causes than bankers,” then I would suggest researching the exciting history of political corruption in America during the 20th century (start with one Hoffa, James).
All of this being said, no sentence in this article should be used to argue against the notion of a Bernie Sanders presidency. This isn’t his doing. You shouldn’t not vote for a person because of the simple-mindedness of some of their supporters. You should, however, demand not-dumb, nuanced arguments.
This meme is a dumb, shitty argument. Only dumb, shitty people make dumb, shitty arguments. Don’t be a dumb, shitty person.