Why a few dozen ZIP codes dominate political donations
Oh, live in 10024; or 33480; or 94301.
ZIP codes, among others, produced the most “maximized” donations to congressional candidates between 2016 and 2020, according to a Public Citizen report that just landed in my inbox.
“The Congressional Well” reveals that congressional fundraising has become stratospheric and siled at the same time. It shows that “the wealthiest 10% of ZIP codes provide 67% of the ‘maximized’ contributions to congressional candidates, and the wealthiest 1% of ZIP codes account for 25%.”
For those of you who live in ZIP codes where people worry about the price of gas, milk, or medicine, “max out” is the legal cap on a donation to a congressional candidate, which , this year, is $2,900. (Of course, where there is a legal cap, there is a way around it, but that’s a topic for another column.)
I attended my fair share of fundraisers in 10024. This is Manhattan’s Upper West Side, bordered by the Hudson River and Central Park. It includes a Grand Canyon of residential buildings on Central Park West, where the floors are so thin you often have to take off your shoes to walk on them. and brownstone mansions where the rich and famous have settled since the last Golden Age. Its residents are predominantly white, the median household income is over $109,000, and the median home is valued at over $1 million.
Public Citizen reveals that eight of the top 10 ZIP codes giving the most maximum contributions are located in Manhattan. New York, NY! If you can max here, you can max anywhere. Unless you live in neighboring Queens. Donors there gave a paltry 82 cents per person in maximum donations, compared to $86 at the bridges.
Then there’s 33480. It’s a golden slice of beachfront along Florida’s South Ocean Boulevard, including the Palm Beach Country Club, The Breakers, and Mar-a-Lago. 33,480 represented nearly $10 million in maximum donations. It has a large concentration of older people, and I have a hunch many have migrated from 10024. (By the way, the zip codes that house the former president donald trumpDonald TrumpTory leader O’Toole ousted in Canada Biden nominee faces scrutiny over his fintech work and pay Overnight Defense & National Security – Pentagon deploys 3,000 troops to Europe MOREThe Trump Tower building and its Mar-a-Lago ranked 2nd and 5th respectively for total maximum contributions.)
94301 is Palo Alto, California. Palo Alto’s official website calls it the “birthplace of Silicon Valley” (unlike my beloved Long Island, which is the birthplace of mall sales). It hosts a few companies you may have heard of, including Hewlett-Packard, Tesla, and Stanford University. The website also notes that it “has a highly educated and culturally sophisticated population that is actively engaged in making a difference both locally and globally.” With over $9 million in max backers, no kidding.
One of my favorite zip codes on the list is 49503, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here, along the serene Grand River, near the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, citizens produced millions of maximum largesse. Incidentally, there are 20 residents here named DeVos, who have combined to bring in $2.8 million in maximum contributions. One of them, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosJury finds Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes guilty on four counts, is, to say the least, unapologetically: “I have decided… to stop taking offense at suggestions that we buy influence. Now, I simply concede the point. They’re right. We expect certain things in return. We plan to foster a conservative philosophy of government consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Further, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win the election.
DeVos is not wrong. People donate to candidates in order to promote their ideologies and safeguard their priorities. Fair enough. But when influence is confined to fewer and fewer American enclaves; when those donations become “investments,” as DeVos puts it, to protect already powerful Americans while the middle class feels powerless; when a few dozen zip codes become donor bubbles while the rest of America feels increasingly marginalized, overlooked and ignored – that’s when I wonder if the hedges and visitor gates will hold back the fury resulting.
Steve Israel represented New York in the United States House of Representatives for eight terms and served as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Brooks Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at the University Cornell. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.