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What This 1-Percenter's Support For Democrats Tells Us About Campaign Finance

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WASHINGTON -- Tom Perkins, tech industry investor and the Paul Revere of the "war on the 1 percent," used to give money to and advise Democratic politicians. But since the financial collapse of 2007-2008 and the election of President Barack Obama, Perkins has given more than $80,000 to Republican candidates and political committees.

It's a case in point for how the current campaign finance system incentivizes candidates and party leaders to make connections with individuals who have dramatically different views than the party faithful. As parties seek bigger donations, they need to set policy priorities to conform to the views of the biggest donors.

Over the past 20 years, the Democratic Party has sought to cultivate big money donors in the financial sector. It's done this in various ways, from supporting deregulation of the industry in the 1990s to currently avoiding issues like the taxation of carried interest or financial transactions, and leaving the writing of Dodd-Frank rules to compromised and besieged enforcement agencies.

But in recent years, Perkins and many previous donors to Democratic candidates have shifted their giving to the Republican Party, which has fine-tuned its political appeals to the growing class of plutocrats still aggrieved by Democratic policy and President Obama's labeling of bankers as "fat cats."

In January, Perkins emerged as a voice of this aggrieved plutocratic class when he compared denunciations of the wealthy in America to Nazi Germany's Kristallnacht, the assault on Jewish neighborhoods that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. More recently, Perkins stated that the right to vote should be weighted depending on one's annual income.

But prior to his recent turn as star super-villain, Perkins could have been mistaken for a liberal based on some of his political contributions and connections.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Perkins raised large sums for President Bill Clinton's two presidential campaigns and contributed $3,000 to Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) campaigns. In 2008, he gave $2,300 to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

As Pelosi was on the verge of becoming speaker of the House in 2006, a San Francisco Chronicle article listed Perkins as one Silicon Valley heavyweight with "long-standing ties" to the San Francisco congresswoman.

Of course, these contributions do not indicate that Perkins was ever a liberal. In 2000, he donated to the presidential campaign of Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne. An investor himself, Browne ran on a platform of eliminating Social Security, the minimum wage, the Federal Reserve and basically every government program and regulatory office. Perkins also made a $10,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee in 2000.

Rather, they're an example of the reality for candidates running for political office, who spend countless hours raising money to fulfill both their own campaign's needs and to fill the coffers of their political party's committees.

Perkins isn't the first Nazi-invoking plutocrat to drop their support for Democrats following Obama's election. The Blackstone Group's Stephen Schwarzman used to make occasional donations to Democratic politicians until 2009, when the party pushed for financial reforms and discussed raising taxes on the rich, including on carried interest. Schwarzman likened these tax increases to "when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

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