News Release

Dark Money, Not Russia, Best Explains Trump’s Win


THOMAS FERGUSON, thomas.ferguson at
Ferguson is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His books include Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.

Vice just ran an interview with Ferguson: “Dark Money, Not Russia, May Be the Best Way to Explain Trump’s Win.” The interview is largely based on a new in-depth working paper and analysis of the role money played in 2016 Ferguson co-authored with Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen, “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election.” [PDF]

A central finding of the paper: “In the final weeks of the campaign, a giant wave of dark money flowed into the campaign. Because it was dark the identity of the donors is shrouded. But our scrutiny of past cases where court litigation brought to light the true contributors suggests that most of this money probably came from the same types of firms that show up in the published listings. In our data, the sudden influx of money from private equity and hedge funds clearly began with the Convention but turned into a torrent only after [Steve] Bannon and [Kellyanne] Conway took over. We are interested to see that after the election some famous private equity managers who do not appear in the visible roster of campaign donors showed up prominently around the President. …

“In the end, total spending on behalf of Trump from all sources totaled slightly more than $861 million — within reasonable hailing distance of the Clinton campaign’s $1.4 billion (including Super PACs, etc.), especially considering how late serious fundraising efforts started.”

The paper also notes: “Bolstering suspicions that a wave of last minute money might actually be the most basic explanation for the Clinton collapse is a fact that virtually no analysts have reflected upon: Her late October fall in the polls was not unique. Democratic chances of taking the Senate unraveled virtually in lock step. … The notion that [James] Comey or even the Russians could be responsible for both collapses is outlandish. Something else must in large part have driven both outcomes. Parallel waves of money is the obvious explanation and our data show that both occurred precisely in the relevant time period. … For the first time in the entire history of the United States, the partisan outcome of Senate races coincided perfectly with the results of every state’s presidential balloting.”

Regarding the alleged role of Russia, the paper notes: “Breitbart and other organizations were in fact going global, opening offices abroad and establishing contacts with like-minded groups elsewhere. Whatever the Russians were up to, they could hardly hope to add much value to the vast Made in America bombardment already underway. … The Senate Intelligence Committee hearings produced truly microscopic numbers for putative Russian efforts directed at the key battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan: For Wisconsin, $1,979, with all but $54 dollars of this spent during the primary. …

“With no publicity, the tech giants — Google, Facebook, Twitter — were all trying to muscle in on the richly rewarding arena of campaign consulting. Their aim was not to ‘weaponize’ internet ads, in the ominous sounding term that analysts of Russian internet now throw around – their interest lay in monetizing them, just as they have restlessly tried to do in everything they engage in.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton “campaign sought to capitalize on the angst within business by vigorously courting the doubtful and undecideds there, not in the electorate. The result is evident in our Table 7, in which — with the possible exception of 1964 — the Clinton campaign looks like no other Democratic campaign since the New Deal. The Clinton campaign reached far into sectors and firms that have rarely supported any Democrat. …

“With respect to the Sanders campaign, these tables show something we are confident is without precedent in American politics not just since the New Deal, but across virtually the whole of American history, waiving the dubious case of the legendary 1896 election: a major presidential candidate waging a strong, highly competitive campaign whose support from big business is essentially zero.”

[Note: The independent journalist Robert Parry, who did ground-breaking work on Iran-Contra and other major stories and founded Consortiumnews, died on Saturday. See piece by his son and co-author, Nat Parry.]