BREAKINGVIEWS-U.S. billionaires apply own checks and balances

by Reuters
Monday, 8 September 2014 18:57 GMT

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By Daniel Indiviglio

WASHINGTON, Sept 8 (Reuters Breakingviews) - U.S. billionaires are applying their own checks and balances in Washington. Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and others routinely open their wallets to influence public policy. A new index suggests neither party has gained a clear edge. The rankings are more art than science, but at least the mega-wealthy are keeping tabs on each other.

The collection of political power-brokers compiled by Brookings Institution scholar Darrell West control some $400 billion, using estimates from Forbes magazine. Republican-leaning influencers like Charles and David Koch, with $72 billion alone between them, and Sheldon Adelson tend to attract greater attention for trying to advance their causes. Also in the top 20, however, are the likes of George Soros and Penny Pritzker on the other side of the spectrum.

The methodology involved, such as it is, makes the index better fodder for a cocktail-hour discussion akin to debating the greatest actor of all time than it does serious interpretation. West looked at items such as campaign donations as well as fuzzier criteria like media influence and advocacy. There's no way to say conclusively, at least on this evidence, whether Peter Thiel carries more sway on shaping policy than, say, Alice Walton, or that Donald Trump's clout falls short of Warren Buffett's.

Even so, the rankings provide one reasonably clear indication. The effort by America's richest citizens to push their political views onto the masses is a bipartisan one. In much the same way that the three branches of government keep any one from gaining superiority, the big money in politics seems to be doing the same.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Brookings Institution scholar Darrell West published his U.S. Billionaires Political Power Index on Sept. 5. The author, a part of the Washington think tank's Governance Studies department, will release a book on billionaires on Sept. 18. He created the political power ranking based on his interpretation of research on campaign contributions, activism through nonprofit organizations, ownership of major media outlets and case studies on policy and advocacy efforts of the ultra-rich.

- The top spot goes to Charles and David Koch, who work together to advance right-leaning policy and have a combined net worth of about $72 billion. America's richest couple, Bill and Melinda Gates, also account for about $72 billion but are ranked seventh. The list also includes investors Warren Buffett and George Soros and media moguls Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch.

- U.S. Billionaires Political Power Index: http://bit.ly/WyVESs

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- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on (On Twitter https://twitter.com/indiviglio. Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Martin Langfield)


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