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Fat cat (term)

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Fat cat (term)

Caricature of a fat cat

Fat cat is a political term originally describing a rich political donor, also called an angel or big money man.[1]

The New York Times has described fat cats as symbols of "a deeply corrupt campaign finance system riddled with loopholes", with Americans seeing them as recipients of the "perks of power", but able to "buy access, influence policy and even veto appointments."[2]

It is also commonly used to describe a rich, greedy person who, due to ownership of large amounts of capital, is able to "live easy" off the work of others. In the UK, it is also used to refer to executives whose pay is deemed by others to be excessive.[3]


  • History 1
  • Use in culture and imagery 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The word was first used in the 1920s in the United States to describe rich political donors.[4][5]

The term's coinage for political purposes has been attributed to Frank Kent, a writer for the Baltimore Sun[6] whose essay "Fat Cats and Free Rides" appeared in the American Mercury, a magazine of commentary run by H. L. Mencken.[7] Kent wrote:

The 1960 campaign for the [8]

A 1972 book by sociologist G. William Domhoff, titled Fat Cats and Democrats, contrasted the Democratic Party's perceived populism with its funding structure. In Domhoff's view, "Short of a nationwide system of public financing for candidates ... it seems likely that wealthy fat cats will find one way or another to finance the candidates of their choice."[9]

The campaign finance reforms following the Watergate scandal greatly reduced the amount of money that individuals could contribute to a political campaign.[10] In the words of Ben J. Wattenberg, "The fat cats were driven from the temple...."[11]

During a 1997 $1,000-per-plate dinner at the Hilton Washington for the Republican Party, which the New York Times dubbed "a lucrative display of the resilience of big-money campaign fund-raising", street protesters calling for further reform dressed in "fat cat" costumes and chanted "Hey, hey, ho, ho! Corporate fat cats like Tim Gerlach have to go!"[12] In the 2008 Democratic race, a group of wealthy backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, warning her they might withdraw financial support for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee if Pelosi did not change her position on whether the party's superdelegates "should support the party's pledged delegate leader".[13] According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the signers included donors such as Haim Saban and Robert L. Johnson, and had given the party nearly $24 million since 2000.[14] In response, the grassroots liberal political action committee MoveOn called the move "the worst kind of insider politics -- billionaires bullying our elected leaders into ignoring the will of the voters," but reassured members that "when we all pool our resources, together we're stronger than the fat cats."[13]

Use in culture and imagery

The word has since acquired a meaning of a rich, powerful person of possibly 'undeserved' wealth. It is now commonly used in editorial cartoons.[15][16][17] In the British printed media, a fat cat is usually depicted as a cat-faced, clad in a pin striped suit, corpulent, middle-aged man holding or smoking a thick cigar representing a venal banker or a high earner executive or "captain of industry".

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Fat Cat, in Ayto, John (2006). Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age, Oxford University Press
  5. ^ Merriam Webster Online, fat cat
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links

  • A Cigar smoking "Fat Cat"
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