Rising star Kamala Harris enters 2020 race with short, but solid fundraising history

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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA (Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) became the latest Democrat to enter the 2020 presidential race. Harris, a first-term senator, had been a district attorney and state Attorney General in California. She received national attention and Democratic acclaim in 2017 for her tough questioning of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions from her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the first day after her announcement, Harris reportedly raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors.

In her thus far brief Senate career, Harris has positioned herself as one of the more progressive senators. She cosponsored a bill that would legalize and decriminalize marijuana, holds an F-rating from the NRA and supports Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) bill to create a “Medicare for All” single-payer healthcare system. For her presidential run, she joined the rest of the Democratic field in eschewing corporate PAC donations.

The short time as a national political figure has not stopped Harris from rising fast and becoming a major fundraiser. In her 2016 campaign, she raised above $15 million and even in the 2018 cycle, a cycle she was not running, she received more than $6.4 million which was more than the average senator.  

In April 2018 Harris said she would no longer accept corporate PAC money. However, she accepted plenty of PAC money before then. From the 2016 cycle through the 2018 cycle, Harris received almost $361,000 in business PAC contributions. In the 2018 cycle, lawyers were her biggest sector for PAC money. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer PAC donated $5,000 to Harris, as did Bryan, Cave et al. Law firms have been Harris’ top donor industry since she ran in 2016. She received more than $2.3 million from PACs and individuals in the field of law since that cycle.

Another major donor in 2018 was Southern Company, a major national electric utility company primarily serving the southeastern United States. The company is “developing low-carbon and
carbon-free resources,” and as of a 2017 report only generate 28 percent of their electricity from coal sources and 47 percent from natural gas.

For her Senate run in 2016, Harris relied heavily on movie industry dollars that contributed to her total amount raised as more than $15 million. She was the number three recipient of TV/Movies/Music industry contributions in 2016, trailing only Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Her top contributors were Time Warner ($127,725) and 21st Century Fox ($89,325).

During the 2016 cycle, her third-biggest contributor were individuals from the Venable LLP law firm. Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, had been a partner at that law firm. In 2018, individuals from the law firm contributed the third-highest amount, $24,000, to Harris’ leadership PAC.  

Harris’ campaign also benefited from a significant amount of outside money spent in her support. More than $3.3 million in outside dollars were dropped in support of her campaign, with around a third coming from the single-candidate super PAC Standing Up for California’s Middle Class. In 2016, the super PAC’s largest expenditure was to AKPD Message & Media which worked for Barack Obama’s two presidential runs.

Harris has had success fundraising with her leadership PAC Fearless for the People. In 2018, the PAC raised more than $2.3 million primarily from lawyers and law firms. Eight of the top donors were individuals or PACs from law firms. The top business PAC donations came from Honeywell International, Navient Corp and McKesson Corp which each contributed $5,000. Newly-elected Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and was the leadership PAC’s top House recipient in the 2018 cycle receiving $10,000. Numerous Senate candidates received $10,000 each.  

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