The four billionaires who served as case studies — Warren Buffett, John Menard Jr., Carl Icahn and David Koch — were selected to capture a range of political philosophies. The authors found that Buffett, for example, a moderately liberal or center-left billionaire and the most politically vocal of the four, had said “friendly things about estate taxes,” as Page puts it, but then provided no financial or other support for the cause. “Among the billionaires that we studied, the 100 wealthiest, none of them are actually working to make taxes more progressive” — and some even worked silently against the estate tax. Yet liberal billionaires have the same outsize access to politicians as their conservative peers do; they could push their own agendas. “A lot of really wealthy Americans probably can pick up the phone and talk to somebody on a high-level position in Washington pretty much anytime,” Page says.
David Koch invested heavily in conservative causes for decades before his death in 2019. He and his brother Charles recognized the importance of exercising influence in state legislatures and city councils. “That’s where voting rules are established,” Lacombe says. “That’s where congressional districts are drawn. So, a lot of the sort of rules of the game are established on those levels.” Menard, who made his fortune by founding the Menards chain of home-improvement stores, was randomly selected from the 70 or so billionaires who never made public comments about taxes or economic issues during the period under study. The researchers found that he flexed his political power by encouraging employees to take part in training exercises whose focuses included conservative positions on things like government debt and wages. (Menards banned merit-pay increases to employees involved in unionization efforts; at one point, store managers were required to sign a contract that included a clause cutting their salary by 60 percent if their branch of the store ever unionized.) Menard also donated substantially to the Koch brothers’ political causes.
Icahn, an activist investor, deviated the sharpest from the pattern found in the book. He said very little about policy, and he was also fairly inactive in politics. Then, in 2015, he endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, and he later established a $150 million super PAC dedicated to corporate tax reform.
When “Billionaires and Stealth Politics” came out in 2018, Page says, multimillionaires who made political contributions gave on average around $4,500 annually; for billionaires, the amount was $500,000. And, he emphasizes, that was just reported contributions, which means it didn’t include any so-called dark money, the political giving by undisclosed donors that was blessed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. Page adds that 21 percent of the multimillionaires …….