The Chicago Donor Class Dominates City Elections

Release Date: 
April 28, 2016

A newly released report provides the first-ever comprehensive study of how municipal level elections and policymaking are dominated by big donors. How Chicago’s White Donor Class Distorts City Policy shows that in the 2015 Chicago mayoral election, candidates raised more than 90 percent of their funds from donors giving over $1,000.

“Much like the donor class at the federal level, city-level donors are more likely to be rich, white and male than the general population,” said report author and Demos Policy Analyst Sean McElwee. “This raises deep concerns about representation in policy-making.”

Key findings:

  • Though whites make up 39% of the population of Chicago, they make up 88% of donors giving more than $1,000. Only five overwhelmingly white wards accounted for 13 percent of Chicago’s population, but 42 percent of donors to the Chicago mayoral and council races.
  • Though only 15% of Chicagoans make more than $100,000, 63% of donors did and 74% of those giving more than $1,000 did. 
  • The donor class is more supportive of budget cuts than average Chicagoans and more opposed to policies that would bolster opportunity. 

There is a city-specific solution: the Fair Election Ordinance, introduced to the Chicago legislature on January 13, 2016, would match all small donor contributions up to $175. This public financing has been proven to increase the influence of small and mid-level donor pools, which are substantially more racially and gender diverse. It would reduce the influence of big money donors and create a more equitable democracy.

Demos Policy Analyst Sean McElwee is available for comment. How Chicago’s White Donor Class Distorts City Policy is a joint release from Demos, Common Cause Illinois, Reclaim Chicago, and People’s Action.