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As Middle America Scrambles to Keep a Roof Overhead, the Few at the Top Break Campaign Spending Records

For the ultra-wealthy masked behind the shadowy network, political contributions offer a return few other investments can match.
 
 
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And so what have Americans learned from the now-concluded 2010 mid-term election campaign, aside from the existence of an Aqua Buddha?

Not much. In fact, given the gap between the severity of our current national economic crisis and the substantive emptiness of this fall’s campaigning, we have may just experienced our most inane election season ever. The level of our political discourse has probably never, at least in modern times, been lower.

The level of cash spent on our electioneering, meanwhile, has never been higher. This year’s federal mid-term contests will likely eat up an all-time record $4 billion. That’s enough, says the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, to “treat each and every American to a Big Mac and fries.”

This $4 billion, we ought to keep in mind, doesn’t include any of the cash spent on this year’s plentiful gubernatorial and state legislative races. The nation’s overall campaign expenditure total will likely top $5 billion. And even this figure understates the massive cash deluge cascading over the American body politic.

None of the campaign spending totals, for instance, include the $108 million spent by “independent groups” to advertise against the health care reform legislation -- after that legislation’s passage last March.

Where’s all this cash coming from? Certainly not from average Americans. With unemployment still near double-digits and consumer confidence running at record lows, most Americans simply don’t have any cash to spare.

Some 53 percent of Americans, the Washington Post reported last week, say they now worry “about not having enough money” to pay their rent or mortgage. That shouldn’t be surprising. The middle fifth of American households, note Census data released in September, averaged only $49,534 last year, over $2,000 less than these households averaged in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Not all Americans, of course, are worrying about their wallets. America’s awesomely affluent have survived the Great Recession quite comfortably. But we didn’t know exactly how comfortably until midway through last month, when officials at the Social Security Administration released the first detailed official federal data on how the nation’s wealthy fared in 2009.

The nation’s wealthy, the new data show, fared just fine. And the wealthiest of the wealthy, the same data show, fared fantastically.

Americans who took home over $1 million in paycheck income in 2009 averaged close to a quarter-million more -- $246,985, to be exact -- than they made in 2008, after inflation. Americans who made over $50 million in paycheck income in 2009, notes tax analyst David Cay Johnston, did spectacularly better.

The 74 Americans who took home over $50 million worth of paycheck dollars last year ended up with more than triple the combined income the $50 million-plus set took home in 2008. Together, these 74 enjoyed a $38.4 billion payday in 2009.

These super rich actually pocketed considerably more than $38.4 billion in personal income. The Social Security Administration data only cover income subject to Medicare payroll tax. Left uncounted in these data sets: income our rich make buying and selling stocks and bonds and other assets, as well as other flavors of investment income ranging from rent to dividends and interest.

In other words, the new Social Security wage data don’t tell us anything about the earnings of hedge fund managers and other Wall Street investment superstars who report the bulk of their income as capital gains. The top-earning 25 of these hedge fund managers, Alpha reported earlier this year, collected $25.3 billion from hedge fund operations in 2009, an average of over $1 billion each.

 
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