DemLabs blog

Lobbyists, donations help shape the COVID relief bill.

Horse racing is important to some. American lives matter to even more people. Why would a politician prioritize horses over people? Money, judges and voter suppression.

Why would Mitch McConnell support horse racing but block COVID relief? How much does he get in political donations? How much came from horse racing lobbyists? How can political donations be traced? How did Citizens United give the super-rich so much political power?

"McConnell knows how the Senate works, he knows how to get ideas into law quickly, and he knows how to kill or drag initiatives to a halt. And he seems to be slowing - or killing the $2,000 checks." - Politico

Connect the dots

Kentucky suffering
"Kentucky suffers worst day for COVID-19 deaths with 54 losses and 3,349 new cases. The commonwealth has lost at least 2,316 people since March from the coronavirus, with 234,021 verified cases of infection." - Courier Journal
"Extended federal benefits put in place during high periods of unemployment this year is ending in Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) announced that its Extended Benefits program, which is triggered when a state’s insured unemployment rate is higher than 5%, will end in Kentucky on Nov. 28. No new applications will be permitted after that date, and those who fail to exhaust their benefits before then will not receive any remaining funds." - Courier Journal

Horse racing
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state, Kentucky, has (Churchill Downs) one of the most famous horse racing tracks in the world, pushed for a provision that would create national medication and safety standards for the horse racing industry..." - NBC News
"The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, is a provision included deep in the measure signed Sunday by President Trump to provide $900 billion in pandemic aid." - NYT

Blocking COVID relief
"Senator Mitch McConnell blocked an attempt by Democrats to hold an immediate vote on increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 from $600" - NYT
"McConnell has consistently held the stance that both checks to individuals would create a disincentive for people to go back to work." - Newsweek
"McConnell, has fought to limit the package and worked to exclude broad-based aid to state and local governments — help that many local officials in Kentucky say they desperately need." - NY Times

Mitch McConnell is a prolific fundraiser.

CEO of Churchill Downs donates to Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party of Kentucky

Accepting Donations
"These top 25 donors alone have contributed far more than half of the $118 million total contributed these four McConnell committees since Jan. 1, 2009.
Craig and Richard Duchossois, Elmhurst, Ill., directors of Churchill Downs, horse racing: $1,165,600" - Courier Journal
OpenSecrets reports that William Carstanjen, the CEO of Churchill Downs donated $13,000 to Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party of Kentucky in October 2020. To research this, I simply checked on the executives on Churchill Downs website and then entered the CEO's name into OpenSecrets to query his political donations.

"I would not say that he (Mitch) ever was a staunch ally of the sport, except when comes to mirroring the positions of Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI)... McConnell is a man who looks at situations through a political lens—the procedure. He does not alter positions unless it is advantageous. He has made his career, so to speak, looking at the form, knowing the odds, and making a wager that benefits his position... CDI possesses a powerful Washington lobby that funnels money into protecting their interests." -

Citizens United

"The ruling for Citizens United ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups, dramatically expanding the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest groups. In a time of historic wealth inequality our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few, and that democratic participation for the vast majority of citizens is of relatively little value. An election system that is skewed heavily toward wealthy donors also sustains racial bias and reinforces the racial wealth gap." - Brennan Center (paraphrased)

"Chief Justice John Roberts presided over the Supreme Court that gutted voting rights and approved Citizens United in 2010. The group that brought the case was chaired by David Bossie, who would later serve as Trump’s deputy campaign manager." - Salon

"Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such “responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials." Roberts appears to believe that they should “follow the preferences” of their supporters and give “special consideration” to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election. - Think Progress

Citizens United has corrupted political decision making.

Of the Rich, By the Rich, For The Rich

This cruel cycle involves the super-rich funding politicians who stack the courts to give more power to the rich and disenfranchise the poor. This leads to politicians where horse racing gets prioritized over COVID relief knowing full well they cannot be voted out.

The rich given more political power
The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending in election cycles. The case, spawned the creation of super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions.

The U.S. now has almost 800 billionaires — and Citizens United effectively gave them and corporation the legal rights to influence elections very directly — with almost unlimited money. The flow of money influences our relatively fragile republic in ways that will further divide our country between the top 1% — and literally everyone else. This isn’t healthy, desirable — or the original intent of our foundational principles. In fact, it’s a direct assault on those principles. - OpenSecrets/Quora

Voter protections are weakened.
"The Voting Rights Act is widely recognized as the most effective civil rights legislation ever passed. Since 1965, it has enabled millions of Black, Latinx, Asian American and Native American citizens who were previously denied suffrage an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court (under John Roberts) seriously weakened the landmark law. The Shelby County v. Holder decision meant that states with histories of racial discrimination were no longer required to pre-clear changes in voting rules with the federal government before they went into effect.

The decision has led to the enactment of a host of voter suppression tactics such as purging voter rolls, restricting voting rights of returning citizens, instituting onerous voter ID laws, limiting access to voting by mail, and other measures that disproportionately affect low-income and Black and brown voters." - Southern Poverty Law Center

Politicians appoint judges to give them even more power
"Mitch McConnell is focused solely on confirming conservative justices to federal courts. That’s why he referred to his decision to block Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, as his most consequential political accomplishment. McConnell knows that the GOP is destined to become a minority party in the coming years. If they maintain their slight majority in the Senate, they have the power to obstruct anything a Democratic president tries to accomplish.

Ultimately, minorities and majorities are meaningless if McConnell can stack the federal courts with extremist judges and use them to bypass both congress and the president. That is precisely why he had that little smirk on his face when responding to the question about whether the Senate would confirm a Trump-nominated Supreme Court nominee in 2020." - Washington Monthly

Stacking the courts

Follow the money

The system is rigged - just not the way they would have you believe. You see it when politicians care more about their wealthy donors (and their horses) than helping the thousands of Americans dying every day from COVID-19. And voters unable to vote for change due to voter suppression and harsh voter ID laws.

"40 million Americans filed for unemployment during the pandemic, but billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars. The Small Business Administration made $349 billion available to small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program. $243 million of that was snapped up by large, publicly traded corporations, some of which were valued at over $100 million. Even hedge funds submitted claims to try to tap into what they saw as free money." - Business Insider

Three good sites to track the dark money destroying democracy:

Open Secrets
Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy., which is the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere. And for other organizations and news media, the Center's exclusive data powers their online features tracking money in politics - counting cash to make change. [Support Open Secrets]

Follow The Money
The nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute on Money in Politics (NIMP) promotes an accountable democracy by compiling comprehensive campaign-donor, lobbyist, and other information from government disclosure agencies nationwide and making it freely available at It researches and archives a 50-state federal/state database of contributions documenting $100+ billion, plus more than 2 million state lobbyist-client relationships that are registered annually. Recent expansions include selected local-level data, collecting independent spending reports for federal campaigns and in 31 states, and lobbying spending in 20 states. [Support Follow The Money]

MapLight is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that reveals and tracks the influence of money in politics in the United States. The organization publishes a free public database linking money and politics data sources, including campaign contributions to politicians, how politicians vote on bills, and support and opposition to legislation. MapLight provides data on both campaign finance and voting behavior in one database. [Support MapLight]

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself." ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Track and expose the money corrupting politics which lets horses race and people die.


Image Credit: Pixabay

Share this Newsletter:

Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook

DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.