Money and politics go hand-in-hand. Politicians need money to run campaigns. The rich have ideological beliefs just like other Americans. But their fortunes afford them an oversized influence in the political process. Once they acquire their billions, these heavy hitters tend to focus on changing the U.S. political climate and influencing global issues, either by using their clout to steer policy debates or using their money to back parties and candidates. Here is a look at some of the many rich Americans behind the American political process.
The Koch Brothers are typically secretive and reluctant to speak in public but in September 2011, David Koch addressed Tea Party leaders, saying, "The American dream of free enterprise, capitalism is alive and well."
According to one estimate, they've contributed more than $100 million to conservative political causes, and a foundation that they back has trained thousands of Tea Party activists.
David H. Koch, 71, and Charles Koch, 75, together own Koch Industries, a Kansas-based company started by their father. The privately-held, $100 billion-dollar-a-year company is best-known for its oil and energy business. In addition to politics, they are benefactors of the arts and sciences.
Controversy has arisen around Koch Industries, which allegedly traded with Iran and paid bribes in France to get payments in six different countries. This summer, the Koch brothers admitted making from illegal campaign contributions between 2005 and 2009, and said that they fired an individual responsible for the bribes.
George Soros is known as "the Man Who Broke the Bank of England." On September 16, 1992 Soros delivered an important message to the world. He proved the U.K.'s reluctance to raise its interest rates or to adopt a floating currency was a costly blunder. To reveal that institutional investors had become more powerful than big government, he short sold more than $10 billion in pounds, earning him an estimated $1.1 billion. The U.K. was unable to resist this fiscal quake and withdrew from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. His feat devalued the pound and cost the U.K. treasury £3.4 billion.
Soros has also had a foray into American politics. In a 2003 Washington Post interview, Soros said removing President Bush from office "is the central focus of [his] life." He furthered, "[it is] a matter of life and death." Soros later added that if necessary, he would sacrifice his entire fortune to defeat President Bush. Soros threw his considerable financial support behind Obama during the 2008 presidential election. However, his early support for Obama hasn't stopped him from repeatedly criticizing the administration's work on the economy.
Although Soros continues to support the current administration, he is upset at Obama's advisors because he proposed bank reforms modeled on the "Danish System" but, "they went their way."
"My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice," Warren Buffett wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed.
Buffett, a self-made multi-billionaire and ardent philanthropist challenges the U.S. tax system. He claims, "Legislators in Washington feel compelled to protect [the mega rich], much as if [they] were spotted owls or some other endangered species." By proposing a tax increase on households making more than $1 million, he pioneered what President Obama later called the "Buffett Rule."
President Obama's 'Buffett rule' was a plan to increase taxes on the wealthy. "Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — an outrage he has asked us to fix," the president told a joint session of Congress earlier this month when he revealed his American Jobs Act.
Republicans firmly oppose this measure. "If [Buffett is] feeling guilty about it I think he should send in a check … But we don't want to stagnate this economy by raising taxes," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in September on NBC.
In September 2011, Obama feasted with 100 of his top Hollywood donors at a $17,900-a-plate dinner. DreamWorks CEO and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg was one of four major contributors to host this event.
Katzenberg is a top supporter of Obama's 2012 campaign. He donated $2 million to Priorities USA Action, a committee founded by former White House aides. He is ranked as the number one political donor on OpenSecrets, a research group tracking money in U.S. politics.
This Hollywood tycoon is a film producer and is the current CEO of DreamWorks Animation. His previous stint at The Walt Disney Co. brought his talents to light as he produced animated films such as Shrek, Antz and The Prince of Egypt.
|A. Jerrold Perenchio|
Perenchio is a loyal Republican donor. He is ranked second on the OpenSecrets list. He was John McCain's national finance co-Chair for the 2008 campaign. He was also a so-called bundler for McCain and gave $500,000 to his campaign.
Perenchio contributed $3 million in 2004 to the Progress for America Voter Fund, an organization that raised money to support President Bush's election bid. He gave $1 million in 2010 to American Crossroads, an organization that spent millions to defend and elect Republicans. Today, Perenchio donates large sums to Tea Party activists.
Perenchio was the chairman and CEO of Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S. He started his career in Hollywood as a talent agent and represented prominent clients such as Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Through a succession of astute business deals, Perenchio amassed a Fortune estimated at $2.3 billion.
Kaiser was a major donor in the 2008 Obama campaign.
He is noted for having contributed large sums to the now bankrupt California solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. According to SEC filings and other records, Kaiser's Argonaut Ventures and its affiliates were the single largest shareholder of Solyndra. Along with his support for the Democratic Party, Kaiser resolutely fights childhood poverty.
George Kaiser's net worth is $10 billion. He is an oil magnate who inherited Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, a company that his uncle started in Tulsa, Okla., he fled Nazi Germany.
Howard Schultz recently made a call to action to his "fellow concerned Americans" to boycott campaign donations. He said it is the responsibility of U.S. business leaders to get this country out of its "crisis of confidence," and that corporations must create jobs. Schultz plans to remodel 1,700 Starbucks stores in the next year, and he will try to open up 200 new stores.
He launched a campaign with full-page ads and a website, Upwardspiral2011, calling for people to boycott political contributions until the national deficit is reduced.
In his ad, Schultz claims that more than 100 CEOs pledged support.
Schultz announced that the "Create Jobs for USA" initiative, in partnership with the Opportunity Finance Network, a collection of community lenders, will use contributions to make loans to small businesses. Every donor who gives $5 or more online or in Starbucks stores will receive a bracelet inscribed with the word "Indivisible." This grassroots initiative aims to get all Americans involved in philanthropy to revive the U.S. economy.
It is worth noting that Schultz and his wife personally donated thousands to politicians since 1994, mostly to the Democratic National Committee. He only donated $1,000 to a Republican, John McCain's presidential campaign, according to OpenSecrets.
Schultz is a self-made man who joined the original Starbucks in Seattle in 1981. He was inspired by a trip to Milan, Italy and returned to Seattle convinced that Starbucks should offer traditional espresso beverages. He then expanded Starbucks's reach across the U.S. to transform this local brand into a multinational behemoth. At 58 years of age, Schultz is now worth $1.1 billion.
ABC's Sarah Parnass contributed to this report