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Want to know what sets Bernie Sanders apart from Hillary Clinton? Look at their donors.

Win McNamee/Getty Images; Kevin Hagen/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

As the Democratic presidential primary progresses, you can expect Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to argue forcefully that Hillary Clinton, who held the first rally of her campaign today, is beholden to corporate interests, particularly the finance sector. And when he does so, you could imagine him citing these numbers:

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders donors, screenshot from Bombed

This screenshot from Reddit user Bombed shows the "career profiles" of Clinton and Sanders, summarizing their top contributors from 1989 to the present. That leaves out Sanders's time as mayor of Burlington, but includes both politicians' entire careers in federal politics. "The organizations themselves did not donate," OpenSecrets explains. "Rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families."

The differences could hardly be more striking. Out of Clinton's top 20 organizational donors, only two (EMILY's List and the University of California) aren't corporate. There are seven mega-banks, five corporate law/lobbying firms, and three big entertainment companies. Now, to be fair to Clinton, the vast majority of these donations came from individuals rather than corporate PACs, and as a senator from New York it's understandable that finance and media interests (not to mention New York ceramics giant Corning) would give to her heavily. But it's still a very corporate-heavy list.

By contrast, 19 of Sanders's top 20 donors are unions. The one non-labor group on the list is the American Association for Justice, an interest group for plaintiff's attorneys, perhaps the most reliable non-union Democratic constituency. This isn't too surprising. Sanders is, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), just about the most pro-labor member of the Senate. He has fought free trade agreements for decades and is a major opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he's critical of guest worker programs that he believes undercut Americans' wages, and he's pushed back on the Obama administration's education reform agenda. (Vermont, it should be said, is the only state in the union without charter schools.)

This is precisely the contrast Sanders wants to set up: Clinton's donor list reads bank, bank, bank, and his reads union, union, union. That won't be enough to win, not least because Democratic primary voters aren't actually more liberal than Clinton. But the threat of being tarred as a tool of finance could be enough to push Clinton in a more populist direction, which is what victory for Sanders would really look like.

Thanks to Chris Meyer for the pointer to the screenshot.

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