Reading Time: 3 minutes

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued today that Democrats, not Republicans, are the party of the rich.

“Don’t tell me Republicans are the party of millionaires and billionaires when Obama’s campaign arm is charging a half-million dollars for a meeting over near the White House,” McConnell said, referencing the new nonprofit Organizing for Action, whose donors will reportedly get special access to President Barack Obama.

McConnell delivered his comments in a speech today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Donors who raise at least $500,000 for Organizing for Action — launched by former Obama campaign aides — will qualify to be part of a national advisory board, which comes with “the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House,” the New York Times reported last month.

White House and OFA officials have dismissed the idea that the nonprofit is selling access. They counter that the group will be a grassroots-focused organization that works to support the president’s legislative agenda and will build off of the Obama’s campaign success with small-dollar donors and volunteers.

During the 2012 election cycle, about 60 percent of Obama’s campaign cash came from donors who gave less than $1,000, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, with 28 percent coming from donors who gave $200 or less.

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan research group calculated that two-thirds of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign cash came from individuals who gave more than $1,000 — and only 12 percent came from individuals who gave $200 or less.

Romney’s candidacy was also buoyed by politically active nonprofits and super PACs, which could accept unlimited contributions.

Both Obama and Romney tapped networks of elite fundraisers, as the Center for Public Integrity has previously reported. Campaign bundlers often receive special perks and access, from participation in VIP retreats to ambassadorships.

Ahead of the election, Obama campaigned on a pledge to let tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush expire for individuals making more than $250,000 a year, while Romney championed tax cuts and the elimination of taxes on capital gains for most taxpayers.

Those policy differences helped make Romney the more favored candidate for many on Wall Street.

The securities and investment industry alone contributed roughly three-and-a-half times as much money to Romney as Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The industry, which gave nearly 70 percent of its funds to Republicans during the last election cycle, ranks as the top financial supporter of McConnell.

Nevertheless, at CPAC, McConnell said Republicans were “not beholden to any special interests,” and he vowed to fight for the right of grassroots groups and business executives to criticize those in power.

“The Constitution doesn’t say you can abridge speech if it’s during an election year or if it’s coming from a businessman whose politics you don’t like,” McConnell said. “It says you can’t abridge speech period.”

In the U.S. Senate, McConnell has successfully blocked the Democrats’ proposed DISCLOSE Act, legislation favored by Obama, which would add new reporting and disclosure requirements for groups that run political ads.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you. 

Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.