Out-of-state contributions dominate high-dollar fundraising in top Senate races

Both Democrats and Republicans are seeing a high volume of out-of-state donors.

July 16, 2020, 1:55 PM

Across key Senate races defining the battle for the majority, out-of-state contributions are overwhelmingly dominating the higher end of fundraising for both Democrats and Republicans - underscoring the nationalized urgency on both sides to defeat the other.

For the most aggressive fundraisers among Democratic challengers, at least 74% and up to 96% of itemized donations so far this cycle were from out-of-state contributors. Among their Republican rivals, out-of-state donations span a range of 69% to 91%, according to an analysis by ABC News of the top five fundraisers for Democratic Senate challengers and their Republican opponents.

Itemized contributions are those that exceed $200 to federal candidates, PACs or party committees, or donations that come through other fundraising committees. ABC News was only able to analyze data from itemized contributions since campaigns aren’t required to register personal information for small-dollar donors, who are considered to be those that make contributions under $200. For contributions that are over $200, campaigns must disclose personal details.

In Kentucky, a state that President Trump carried by nearly 30 points in 2016, Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who is facing the tall order of unseating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, brought in $17.4 million in the second quarter - topping Democratic fundraising.

Her total now stands at $40.8 million for the cycle, with $17.8 million in itemized donations. Of those itemized contributions, $17.1 million were from out-of-state, marking roughly 96%, according to her most recent filings.

The large portion of McGrath’s itemized contributions come from California and New York, followed by Massachusetts and Washington, according to the data.

McConnell, too, has a significant share of his itemized donations coming from out-of-state. The long-time lawmaker, with over 30 years in the Senate, raised $12.2 million in the second quarter, bringing his total to $37.9 million for the 2020 campaign.

Of his $17.5 million in itemized contributions for the cycle, $15.7 million or 90% were from beyond Kentucky’s borders -- with a significant slice of his donor support coming from Virginia, California, Florida and Texas.

In battleground Arizona, a state Trump nabbed narrowly by about 4 points the first time around, Mark Kelly, a prolific fundraiser throughout the election season, pulled in $12.8 million in the second quarter, bringing his total to $44 million for the cycle.

Of his 2020 total so far, $23 million came from itemized donations, and of that, $17.4 million or 74% was from out-of-state.

While Arizona donors made up one-quarter of Kelly’s itemized contributions, outside the state, donors from California, New York and Texas were among the most giving.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who is considered one of the most endangered incumbents, raised about $29 million so far this cycle, and brought in a little less than one third from Arizona donors, out of roughly $15 million itemized contributions. But about 71% of that was from out of state, with the biggest support coming from California, Florida and Texas. She raised $9.3 million in the second quarter.

PHOTO: Sen. Martha McSally, attends the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 3, 2020.
Sen. Martha McSally, attends the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 3, 2020.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of nonpartisan campaign finance research group Center for Responsive Politics, told ABC News that the volume of out-of-state donations this fundraising quarter might not be new, but it does signal an intensifying fight for control of the Senate.

"This is consistent with what we've been seeing even before the Q2 numbers this year. It shows an exceptionally high pattern of out-of-state money, particularly for when you include donations of $200 or less, and particularly for Democrats," Krumholz said. "It is also true of all large donations that are more than $200 and for Republicans as well. There is just more intensity across the board for out-of-state donations to Senate races and it shows that these elections are more nationalized this year than in past elections."

In Maine, Sara Gideon, the Democratic speaker of the statehouse, who is seeking to oust longtime GOP Sen. Susan Collins, raised $9 million in the reporting period, roughly triple what Collins raised, and adding to her total, which now stands at $24 million so far. Of her total, about $10 million were itemized, and roughly $8 million or 85% were from outside Maine, with an immense amount of support coming from California, New York and Massachusetts.

PHOTO: In this March 17, 2020, file photo, House speaker Sara Gideon conducts business in the House Chamber at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
In this March 17, 2020, file photo, House speaker Sara Gideon conducts business in the House Chamber at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP, FILE

Collins, who is contending with one of the most difficult re-elections in the Senate, and the toughest of her career, brought in $3.6 million over the last three months. Her total for the cycle is $17 million so far, with $10 million being itemized and $9.2 million or 91% of those donations coming from out-of-state, the largest shares coming from California, Florida and New York.

Nearly a dozen seats are competitive between the two parties, but with Republicans holding 53 seats in the Senate, Democrats need to flip four seats to retake the chamber -- or three if former Vice President Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump.

As Trump’s re-election campaign confronts his slipping standing in public polling amid a resurgence of the coronavirus across the country and a renewed national debate over racial inequality, Democrats are becoming more bullish about their chances of taking the majority -- even expanding their efforts deeper into red territory.

This quarter saw more than a dozen Democratic challengers outpace their Republican opponents, adding to their stockpile of resources for the fight to retake the chamber.

But out-of-state dollars don’t guarantee success - and come with some drawbacks.

"The downside for these recipients is that these out-of-state donors can't vote for them," Krumholz said. "Jon Ossoff in Georgia against Karen Handel, did very well, outraised her by a good deal, but fell on Election Day because those Massachusetts voters couldn't couldn't help on Election Day. What counts is not the money, but the votes."

Out-of-state cash can also be leveraged against a campaign, she said.

"That's a very common way to try to convince voters that that candidate, the opponent, will not represent you, they'll represent the elite forces from far away," she continued. "But of course, that's more difficult if both campaigns were relying heavily on out of state funding."

In Montana, a state Trump carried by 20 points in 2016, incumbent GOP Sen. Steve Daines raised $5 million during the reporting period, raising a total of $13 million for the cycle. Of his total for the entire campaign, $6 million were itemized contributions, and of that, roughly a third of that came from Montana and about two thirds, or $4.4 million, were from out-of-state, with a sizable chunk of support from California, New York and Texas.

PHOTO: Senator Steve Daines speaks at a press conference on July 1, 2020.
Senator Steve Daines speaks at a press conference on July 1, 2020.
Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP

Daines’ challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock, a former presidential contender who jumped into the race in March, rounded out the top five Democratic challengers in fundraising for the quarter, bringing in $7.7 million. Bullock, who has raised a total of $11.2 million this cycle, has brought in much more from out-of-state donations than his contender, with roughly 87% of his $7.4 million itemized contributions coming from out of state. California has been his biggest supporter, making up about 24% of his itemized contributions, while donations from Montana only made up about 13%.

In South Carolina, another state Trump won by double digits four years ago, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham is up for re-election and facing a challenge from Jaime Harrison, the first black chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

Graham raised $8.4 million in the second quarter, bringing his total for the cycle to $31 million. The incumbent Republican’s itemized contributions fall at $12.9 million for the cycle, of which $11.1 million or 86% is not from South Carolina. A large number of his out-of-state supporters are from California, Florida, New York and Texas.

Democrats are lining up behind Harrison, who raked in $14 million between April and June, which is nearly double Graham’s total in the same time period. He has raised $33.2 million so far for the entire election. Of that total, roughly $12 million were itemized and a slightly less than $10 million or 85% were from out-of-state, much of which has come from California and New York.

Krumholz said the "foreign" donations signal a "testament" of Senate candidates becoming a "national cause," but warned that these competitive contests are not all about war chests.

"Money still is no panacea for the whole state effort," she said.

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