Tea Party Flexes Fundraising Muscle in Key Senate Races

Small-scale donors play key roll in some Tea Party candidates' fundraising.

October 22, 2010, 10:05 AM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2010— -- In a record-breaking political cycle where ad spending is estimated to hit $3 billion, Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate candidates are driving this year's exceptional fundraising dynamism, according to Federal Election Commission data reviewed by ABC News.

The 10 most prominent candidates, including list-toppers Sharron Angle of Nevada, Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have together collected nearly 18 percent of the $400 million total raised by U.S. Senate candidates so far during the 2010 campaign.

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Tea Party sensation Angle, who is locked in a dead-heat with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, raised more money than any Senate candidate in the third quarter, raking in a whopping $14 million. Reid raised just under $2 million during the same period.

The Nevada Senate race has been the nation's most expensive this year, with nearly $40 million raised between the two candidates. The three-way race between Rubio, Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek in Florida is a close second.

In Pennsylvania, Tea Party favorite Toomey has raised more than $13 million and holds a financial edge over Democrat Joe Sestak in the final week of the campaign.

And, in the two weeks after clinching the GOP nomination in the Sept. 14 primary, Delaware's Christine O'Donnell raked in more than $3 million and has out-raised her opponent, Democrat Chris Coons, by more than double.

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While the size and population of each state and varying costs of individual media markets can skew state-to-state comparisons, the Tea Party Senate candidates' fundraising achievement reflects the enthusiasm of their supporters and engagement of new segments of the electorate.

"When we asked people have you ever been involved in politics before, we were finding 80 percent of them had never been involved," Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo said in explaining the exceptional amounts of campaign cash. "When people get really upset, they get involved in politics for the first time.

"For these people is not about, 'Ah, should be contribute this year to the annual charity ball?' No. This is about standing up for our country, and this is important for their future and children's future," he said.

Small-Scale Donors Give Big to Tea Party

A review of FEC data shows many of the well-known Tea Party-backed Senate candidates have raised significant portions of their funds from small-scale donors, who each gives no more than $200 to a candidate.

O'Donnell has raised more than 70 percent of her funds from small-scale donors, while Angle has collected 55 percent of her cash in the form of small individual contributions.

In many races involving high-profile Tea Party candidates, a majority of the individual contributions pouring into the candidates' campaign coffers have come from out-of-state, experts say.

Because of the Tea Party, "it's easier for people in those races to draw national attention," said Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute.

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