Big city donors drive unprecedented fundraising in 2018 midterms

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Washington DC. donors gave nearly $250 million to candidates and outside groups this cycle, more than $39 million of which came from lobbyists. (Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Big city donors were the primary factor in making this year’s election cycle the most expensive midterm election ever.

Contributors in the 10 most generous states — including Washington, D.C. — added up to nearly $2.6 billion in itemized contributions to candidates and outside groups this cycle, while the residents located in the rest of the country contributed less than $1.4 billion, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The 10 most generous metro areas in the U.S. accounted for more than $1.8 billion in itemized contributions this cycle, nearly doubling the $964 million figure in 2014.

Californians gave out an unprecedented $606 million in itemized contributions this cycle, only $130 million of which went to Republican candidates and conservative groups. That’s an increase of 72 percent over 2014 and a 87 percent increase in contributions to Democrats from The Golden State.

The most expensive and competitive Senate races drew out millions more in contributions from in-state donors.

Texas nearly doubled its 2014 total — $303 million over $167 million — and saw a 160 percent increase in contributions to Democrats. Unsuccessful Texas Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke accounted for a large portion of that increase, collecting nearly $26 million from his fellow Texans.

Missouri experienced a surge in contributions to Democrats and liberal groups, to $18 million this cycle from $3 million in 2014. Losing incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised $9 million of her $35 million haul from itemized in-state contributors.

Montana donors spent big on Democrats this cycle too, to the tune of $8.5 million compared to just $2 million in 2014. Nearly half of that money — $4 million — went to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Contributions from North Dakota residents more than doubled, and giving to conservative causes more than tripled, in the midst of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s unsuccessful re-election campaign.

West Virginia is an outlier in that it held a competitive Senate race but also saw its in-state contributions drop by 26 percent, a state high. It is one of just seven states that had fewer in-state contributions in 2018 compared to 2014.

Washington, D.C. experienced one of the largest increases in contributions to Republican candidates and conservative outside groups, from $22 million to more than $65 million. The federal district contributed a total of $249 million, despite having a population of less than 700,000. K Street was a big factor, as lobbyists spent more than $39 million.

A handful of states saw more than half of their contributions come from one donor. In Wyoming, Pan Am Systems Chairman Timothy Mellon contributed $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC.

In eighteen states, the top donor from 2014 was also the most prolific donor this cycle. Liberal megadonors Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer highlight the list, making up more than 10 percent of contributions in 2018 and 2014 in New York and California, respectively. Of the 51 leading donors, 34 gave a majority of their money to Republican candidates and causes.

After staying out of the 2014 election, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson made up three-quarters of Nevada’s contributions this cycle. The Adelsons spent so much — more than $113 million — that they single-handedly brought Nevada from having the 28th-most contributions in 2014 to seventh-most this cycle.

The massive increase in contributions coming from specific ZIP codes highlights the sheer dominance of megadonors.

In Carmel, Indiana, itemized contributions from ZIP code 46032 jumped from less than $1 million to nearly $18 million. Of that massive sum, a combined $10 million comes from Deborah Simon and Cynthia Simon-Skjodt, daughters of the late shopping mall billionaire Melvin Simon.

The Simon sisters contributed more than $6 million to the Senate Majority PAC, which spent more than $17 million on media buys in an unsuccessful attempt to re-elect Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

In Manhattan, nearly all of the funds coming from Midtown ZIP code 10154 went to conservative groups, thanks to nearly $13 million from investment banker Stephen Schwarzman and his wife Christine. Together, the Schwarzmans are the eighth-highest spending donor this cycle and gave $8 million to the Senate Leadership Fund.

The Washington, D.C. metro area — which includes parts of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia — was once again king in 2018, with more than $397 million in political contributions coming from the DMV.

Most of the biggest metropolitan areas saw large increases in political giving, with Democrats getting the lion share of the increase. The top 10 metros gave more than $1 billion to Democrats and liberal groups this cycle, nearly doubling their total $546 million number in 2014.

The shift also occurred in historically-Republican suburban areas such as Orange County, California — where Democrats made significant gains this cycle — and Long Island, New York.

Long Island contributed more to Democrats than Republicans — $15 million to $13 million — in a departure from 2014 trends when Republicans got nearly $6 million more. Island Republican legislators Lee Zeldin and Peter King held onto their seats despite being outraised by their Democratic opponents both in-state and in-district.

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