Tea Party Fever Means Big Cash from Small Donors

A snapshot of FEC data shows small-scale political donations have been robust.

ByABC News
October 4, 2010, 4:10 AM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2010— -- In a year of record-setting campaign fundraising and spending, driven largely by contributions from corporations, unions, third-party groups and dozens of self-financed millionaire candidates, the small-scale individual donor is also proving to be a formidable force.

A snapshot of Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance data compiled by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, and reviewed by ABC News, shows that of the more than $731 million raised so far by more than a thousand candidates for the U.S. House, nearly 10 percent came from donors giving no more than $200 total.

Candidates in races involving high-profile Tea Party-endorsed candidates, some of whom have a virtual lock on reelection, top the list of grassroots fundraisers.

The findings offer a striking illustration of the political engagement sparked by the Tea Party this election season and demonstrate that the recession has not diminished small-scale political fundraising in many congressional races.

South Carolina Republican and Tea Party-favorite Rep. Joe Wilson, whose reelection appears all but certain, has collected more than $2.6 million, or 65 percent, of his total campaign war chest directly from donors each giving less than $200 total – more than any other candidate.

Wilson's Democratic opponent, Robert Miller, who ranks sixth on the list, collected $1.6 million, or 63 percent, of his campaign funds in the form of small contributions.

In Minnesota, Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who founded the House Tea Party Caucus, ranks third, and her challenger, Democrat Tarryl Clark, ranks ninth. Allen West, a Tea Party-backed challenger in Florida's 22nd congressional district, and House Minority Leader John Boehner are also in the top 10.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who ranks 813 on the list, has raised less than one percent of her total campaign funds from small-scale individual donors.

But her Tea Party-backed Republican challenger, John Dennis, has raised 64 percent of his campaign cash from small-scale donors. And Dennis' GOP primary opponent, Dana Walsh, raised 84 percent of her $1.9 million from contributions of no more than $200 each, ranking her fourth overall.