One number from the undercover video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s pep talk for big donors should bother everyone, and it is not 47 percent.

That was the figure that Romney gave for the Americans who don’t pay federal income tax, who he mistakenly conflated with the people who receive assistance from government programs, and who, in Romney’s view “see themselves as victims” and won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Ample analysis has shown the nonsense of Romney’s statement: Hardworking students, veterans and seniors receive well-deserved benefits from government programs, and many of them pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy investors with whom Romney was sharing his complaints about the national character.


The number that hasn’t received as much attention, however, is $50,000, and it is not so easy to dismiss.

That was the price per plate of the Republican Party fundraiser at which Romney made his remarks. It is also, incidentally, a little more than the median household annual income in Maine, according to census figures released last week. Half of the state’s households earn more and half less. (The national median income, according to the same report, is $50,054.)

So, the people who sat without objecting when Romney libeled nearly half the nation as a bunch of moochers had paid more for their dinner than half our state’s families earn in a year.

That these donors have outsized influence that distorts our politics is not news and it is not limited to Republicans. Democrats also have well-heeled donors who get close to candidates and influence their postitions.

The Romney video coming out at the same time as the census data, however, should raise some troubling conclusions about the effect of that access on our nation.

The census looks at the slice of time between 2007 and 2011. It started with a financial crisis, created by lax regulation of investors who bet recklessly on high-risk home mortgage derivatives that was followed by a steep economic decline and glacial recovery that still rocks middle-class families.

Since the start of the recession, Maine household income has dropped 8 percent. The percentage of families with young children below the poverty line (this year $23,050 for a family of four) has increased 44 percent. The number of families that qualify for food stamps in the state has jumped 42 percent.


Meanwhile in Washington, issues of interest to the investor class, such as deficit reduction and low top tax rates, get center stage, while issues that could make a difference in the lives of families trying to avoid or escape poverty, such as health care, education and infrastructure investment, are largely dismissed as wasteful spending.

A report issued last week by the non-partisan Congressional Research Office showed that, since Word War II, the only effect of letting the wealthy keep more of their income through tax rate cuts is that the wealthy keep more of their income.

There is no evidence during the last 67 years that the money circulates in the economy and increases Gross Domestic Product.

Wealthy political donors have always had more than their fair share of influence, but in the post-Citizens United world where there are no limits and there is no accountability, our democracy is in a perilous state.

When people who can spend more for a meal than half of Maine families earn in a year have the ear of those in power, the interests of those families will not be heard.