Dozens of donors are nearing the $108,200 cap on federal campaign contributions for the 2008 elections in a sign of the record-breaking cost of the White House race, an analysis conducted for USA TODAY shows.
A total of 113 people have donated at least two-thirds of the amount they can give legally to all federal candidates, parties and political action committees with a year to go in what will be the most expensive presidential race, according to research by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Among the big givers: billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, newspaper heiress Nan McEvoy and shopping-mall magnate Mel Simon.
The cap increased in 2002 as part of a campaign-finance overhaul. It was raised partly to reduce the time candidates spend on fundraising, and to offset a ban on wealthy people, unions and companies giving unlimited and unregulated amounts of so-called "soft" money.
Even so, donors who can afford to give the maximum are an elite group with undue influence, says Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute. Candidates "are much more likely to hear about capital-gains taxes than about food stamps," he said.
In 2004, 372 donors hit the limit, then $95,000. Roughly 60% went to Republicans; nearly 40% to Democrats.
This year, nearly 90% of the money from contributors nearing the limit is going to Democrats, the analysis found. That mirrors the fundraising edge Democrats have over Republicans running for the White House and Congress.
Vic Fazio, a lobbyist and former congressman, has donated nearly $80,000 to Democrats. "Having been in a position when I had to raise money, I'm responsive to people who are in the same dilemma," he says.
Since 1999, the Federal Election Commission has levied fines in five cases related solely to the limits.