July 23, 2018: This story has been corrected.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is worth nearly $3 billion.
Basketball legend-turned-businessman Michael Jordan’s net worth is a reported $1.65 billion.
Businessman and philanthropist Robert Smith is worth more than both of them with an estimated net value of $4 billion-plus.
All three black billionaires are known as generous philanthropists, but not big political givers — they are rarely mentioned in the same breath as political megadonors Charles and David Koch, George Soros and Tom Steyer.
Winfrey, Jordan and Smith aren’t anomalies, either. The nation’s wealthiest African-Americans are decidedly reluctant campaign contributors, almost completely ceding the rarefied rank of “political megadonor” to older, white men, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission and Center for Responsive Politics data.
Since 2010, when the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC and opened floodgates to unlimited spending in elections, minority donors have been all but absent from every federal election’s top 100 political spenders list, the analysis found.
Critics of the nation’s campaign money system say lawmakers are increasingly beholden to a very small pool of aging white donors who don’t reflect a country that’s becoming younger, blacker and browner.
The success of Democrats’ mission to retake control of the U.S. House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections depends heavily on convincing people of color to vote in a post-Barack Obama era. Democrats recently announced a new campaign aimed at turning out nonwhite voters. In addition, a new cluster of left-leaning super PACs and grassroots political groups — with names such as BlackPAC, Black Economic Alliance and Asian American Victory Fund — have sprung up in support. Some of these groups depend heavily on funding from white donors.
Quentin James, founder of The Collective PAC, whose mission is to help elect African-American candidates to office, said black donors don’t prioritize political giving, thwarting their impact on the political process.
“We’ve been told the biggest lie in politics, which is that the only thing that matters is your vote,” James said, citing the ramifications of the Citizens United decision. “If our community wants to be fully taken into account in this political system, our dollars have to matter as much as our votes.”