It’s always fascinating if often unsettling to shine a flashlight into the shadows of campaign financing and see what kinds of people made spontaneous, totally coincidental decisions to give big money to candidates and causes.

The always-insightful Lee Drutman provides some enlightening data on this issue for the Sunlight Foundation:

In the last two decades, finance, insurance, and real estate have made many individuals quite rich, propelling them to stratospheric levels of wealth.

It’s also propelled these individuals into stratospheric levels of political giving….

An analysis of campaign contribution records by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that the number of donors in the FIRE sector giving at least $10,000 (in 2010 dollars) per cycle to political candidates, parties, and independent expenditure groups has increased from 1,091 in 1990 to 5,510 in 2010 (a 405% increase). These elite FIRE sector donors’ combined contributions have increased even more dramatically, growing by $162.8 million (a 700% increase, controlling for inflation) to $178.2 million in 2010.

The next largest source of $10k-plus donations, lawyers and law firms, are really struggling to keep up, throwing in only $59.6 million in 2010.

It’s really nice these growing sectors just happen to have so many civic-minded folk in their ranks. If the United States ever emulates other advanced democracies by adopting a robust system of publicly financed campaigns, we sure could help today’s big donors channel their dollars into something more productive and less, ah, aromatic.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.