Clinton Campaign Email Highlights Study Finding US Dominated by 'Economic Elites'

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at The Quad, Saint Augustines University,Oct. 23, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina.PlayMary Altaffer/AP Photo
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A purportedly leaked email exchange from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta has brought attention to an academic study that found that the super wealthy and business interests in the U.S. have substantially more say on public policy than average citizens.

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The email exchange was in 2014, before Clinton officially announced her candidacy and prior to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders entering the race and making concerns about income inequality and the concentration of wealth and power at the top a major theme of the Democratic primary election.

The messages are among thousands posted on the WikiLeaks website recently that are purported to have been hacked from Podesta’s inbox. The Clinton campaign has said little to confirm or deny the authenticity of the emails or their content.

The campaign's chief strategist, Joel Benenson, said today on ABC News' "This Week" that while he hasn't spent a lot of time reading the purportedly leaked emails, "I know I've seen things that aren't authentic, that we know aren't authentic." He declined to elaborate, saying he wouldn't "go into details."

Podesta released a statement that blamed the Russians for what he called "the illegal hack”: “It is now clear that the illegal hack of my personal email account was —- just like the other recent, election-related hacks —- the work of the Russian government," the statement said.

The email exchange about the study suggesting the U.S. is dominated by economic elites was -- if the messages are authentic -- between James Sandler and his father Herbert Sandler of The Sandler Foundation, both of whom have donated to Democratic causes or candidates.

James Sandler appears to have initiated the exchange with an email that linked to a story on the liberal blog Talking Points Memo about the study, with a headline declaring that the U.S. is no longer an actual democracy.

"I guess it takes a study to point out the obvious," Sandler purportedly wrote.

Podesta does not appear to comment on the study, instead referring to a New York Times op-ed about Israeli politics moving to the right.

Herbert Sandler responds that he has "read it and circulated it," though it's unclear if he's referring to the Talking Points Memo article or the study itself.

He adds that this is precisely what he and his wife "have believed for some time ... It is horrible."

ABC News requested comment from the Sandler Foundation but did not immediately hear back.

In the study, political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University found that a small number of super wealthy people, the "economic elites," and organized groups representing business interests in the U.S. have far greater influence on public policy than "average citizens."

"We believe that if policy-making is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," the authors stated in the study.

Bernie Sanders made this theme a tenet of his primary campaign against Clinton.

"[W]e are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society," Sanders said said in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. in February 2015. "Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue."

Sanders also sought in his campaign to portray Clinton as less focused on this issue and too concerned with the interests of Wall Street.