Judging by his campaign's recent attacks on Bain Capital, President Obama is positioning himself as the tribune of the 99 percent against the Republican 1 percent. This is a time-honored Democratic tactic that runs from Andrew Jackson's self-description as champion of the "common man" standing up to the "moneyed capitalists," all the way through Al Gore's presidential nomination in 2000, when he framed the Republican-Democrat divide this way: "They're for the powerful; we're for the people!"
Yet that flattering narrative is at odds with history. Jackson, despite his humble roots, was a man of considerable personal wealth. His rhetoric about representing those without power or political connections belied a cruel indifference to the plight of powerless groups like Native Americans. Gore's populism similarly masked his upper-class pedigree and his net worth, well in excess of $100 million. Obama himself, with estimated assets of more than $10 million, is an unlikely epitome of the everyman.
What's true of the Democratic Party's standard-bearers is true of the party and the Left more broadly. As we detail in our new book, "The New Leviathan," Democrats and their progressive core represent America's social and cultural elites and constitute the wealthiest, best-organized and most economically powerful political force in American history.
Left-wing foundations exemplify this clout. As of 2009, the financial assets of the 115 major tax-exempt foundations of the Left added up to nearly $105 billion. That is over 10 times greater than the financial assets of the 75 major foundations of the Right.
Not that such disparities have deterred progressives from portraying themselves as underdogs. People for the American Way, in an oft-heard liberal lament, insists that conservative foundations are a singular force in American political life, unmatched in "their sheer size and concentration" and in their willingness to "promote a highly politicized agenda by funding a broad range of organizations." Our findings suggest that this complaint is a reversal of reality.
Consider, for example, the group of family foundations associated with the libertarian Koch brothers. In total, the Koch-affiliated foundations have an estimated $200 million in assets. That may be enough to give the Left nightmares, but it's pocket change next to the Left's tremendous resources. The Ford Foundation, for instance, had $10.5 billion in assets as of 2010. Ford itself is dwarfed by the leading progressive philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in 2010 had an endowment of more than $33 billion. That number all by itself is three times the total of all 75 conservative foundations combined.
Even as their movement allies deny that a resource gap exists, left-wing foundations have taken advantage of it to invest much larger amounts of cash in their beneficiary groups than have their conservative counterparts. Foundations of the Left today support and sustain an organizational universe of policy and advocacy organizations whose galaxies are far more numerous than those of the Right. The resources available to these groups is even greater than the disparity in assets would suggest.
The issue of immigration is illustrative. We were able to identify 117 progressive groups that support open borders or citizen rights for illegal immigrants, compared with nine conservative groups that oppose these agendas. The net assets of the 117 progressive immigration groups we identified were $194.7 million, or almost 13 times greater than the net assets of the nine conservative immigration groups, which totaled $15.1 million. This advantage prevails in a host of other critical policy areas, including the environment, national security and health care.
If this represented the extent of the Left's financial might, the funding superiority would be obvious enough. But in addition to foundations and the activist groups they have parented, Democrats can also rely on another powerful source of financing in government unions like the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Labor unions spent an estimated $400 million in the 2008 presidential election cycle. They plan to spend even more to secure Obama's re-election.
Obama may yet triumph in November. But if he does, it will be not because of the "people" or the so-called "99 percent," but because the Left's financial juggernaut made it possible.
David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin are the authors of "The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America's Future."