According to an OpenSecrets.org report released last week, 66 members of Congress received a majority of their individual campaign donations from people who do not live in their state. There could be valid reasons for this. But in a political climate where money equals influence, this could indicate either constituents are not having their interests adequately represented in Washington, or that some members of Congress could not have won with only support from their constituents.
Position, power, and seniority can all draw out-of-state money to a candidate. Candidates that have attracted national attention on a hot issue can also see significant out-of state-contributions.
It is important to note we are not talking PAC money. Rather these are donations of more than $200 made by individuals directly to the campaign. Individual donors of donations under $200 are not required to be identified.
The report did not provide all 66 names. For 15 of the names listed, it's fair to question whether these donations really had an impact on the outcome.
- Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) - Presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite barely won re-election with 50% of the vote
-Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) - Champion of LGBT rights and openly gay senator captured only 51% of the vote while receiving 72% of her individual donations from outside of Wisconsin.
-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) – In spite of a major blunder by her challenger, Rep. Todd Akin, McCaskill only won 54% of the vote with 64% out-of-state individual donations.-
-Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) – As chairman of the House Energy Committee, Upton received 64% of his individual donations from out of state. He won re-election with only 54% of the vote.
Races where the out-of-state donations probably did not make a difference:
-Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) – As speaker of the House, Boehner received 85% of his individual donations from outside of Ohio. However, he was only challenged by a write-in candidate and won re-election with over 99% of the vote.
-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) – As the GOP vice presidential candidate, Ryan won re-election to his House seat with 72% of the vote.
-Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) – As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he received 64% out-of-state donations. He also won re-election with 58% of the vote.
-Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UTAH) – One of the most powerful and longest-serving U.S. Senators, he won re-election with 66% of the vote.
-Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) – With 22 years in the House and the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp attracted 80% out-of-state donations and 63% of the vote.
-Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) – Re-elected to his 16th term with 61% of the vote, Levin received 71% of his individual donations from outside of Michigan, most likely due to his being the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee.
-Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) – Washington, D.C. is solidly Democratic. The 53% out-of-district donations probably didn’t affect her 88% of the vote victory.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) – As the minority whip in the House, Hoyer received 75% out-of-state donations but cruised to his 15th term with 69% of the vote.
Hefty out-of state-donations don't always guarantee a victory.
-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a former presidential candidate, lost his bid to retain his House seat in the primary. He received 85% of his individual donations from outside the state.
-Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) gave up her House seat to try to unseat Senator Dean Heller. She narrowly lost while collecting 68% of her donations from states other than Nevada.
-Rep. Alan West (R-Fla.), a Tea Party favorite, lost his first bid for re-election in a tight race while receiving 60% of individual donations from out of state.
Obviously, support and donations from individuals living in other states or districts cannot be outlawed. But it can make a difference in close races where victory or defeat could be determined by one more television, radio, or online spot.
Money is influence. Constituents should at the very least be told, before voting, where a candidate’s support is coming from so they can decide if the out of state influence is something can accept.