11 Dec 18
East Bay Times
The Democrats who flipped congressional seats across California this year rode to victory on a wave of cash from outside their districts, a Bay Area News Group analysis of newly released fundraising reports found.
More than 90 percent of the total money that the seven victorious Democrats raised from individual itemized donors came from outside their GOP-held districts, according to the review of Federal Election Commission data. Four of them raised more than 95 percent outside their districts, and one, incoming Central Valley congressman TJ Cox, received more than 99 percent of his haul from elsewhere in California and the country.
In almost every race, Republican candidates raised a larger percentage of their individual itemized donations from in-district donors than their Democratic challengers — a sign that the Democrats were better able to harness attention on the state’s congressional battlegrounds from around the nation. And several of the candidates found huge success fundraising from the Bay Area in particular.
“We saw an explosion in online national fundraising this cycle that Republicans weren’t able to take advantage of,” said Maclen Zilber, a Democratic political consultant in Los Angeles who worked on several congressional campaigns this year. “That is a problem Republicans are going to have to rectify if they want to be competitive in future campaigns.”
The incoming flow of outsider cash played a big role in the Democrats’ success taking back the majority in the House of Representatives, including historic wins in California, where newcomer Democrats claimed Republican-held seats in some of the Golden State’s most conservative strongholds.
The calculations don’t include most smaller donations of $200 or less, which campaigns aren’t required to report individually. The Democrats mostly had a higher portion of small-dollar donations than their opponents: Cox, for example, received about 23 percent of his funds from small dollar contributions, while those donations made up less than 7 percent of the fundraising haul for his opponent, Republican Rep. David Valadao. Republicans also got a larger portion of their money from political action committees instead of individual donors.
The only Democratic candidate who took in a higher percentage of their total locally than their Republican opponent was Orange County law professor Katie Porter. She raised 13.8 percent of her haul in individual contributions from her district, while incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters got 11 percent.
The Democrats actually raised more money than the Republicans from within their districts — they just raised a whole lot more from outside as well. Of the $25.5 million total that the Democratic candidates raised in individual itemized donations, only $2.4 million came from within their respective districts, or 9.5 percent. The Republican candidates, in comparison, raised $2.1 million of their total $10 million from within their districts, or 21 percent.
The lopsided percentages left some Republicans grumbling. Lydia Kanno, the president of Modesto Republican Women, said she doubted Democrat Josh Harder would have defeated incumbent Central Valley Republican Rep. Jeff Denham without his massive fundraising advantage — more than 95 percent of which came from outside the district.
“His money came from people who don’t care at all about our district, they just want to have this seat and win Congress,” Kanno said.
Several of the Democratic victors reaped big totals from the Bay Area in particular: Nearly 60 percent of the total that Harder raised from specific individuals came from the region. His Modesto-area district borders the Bay Area and has many residents who commute back and forth, and he worked as a venture capital investor in San Francisco before moving home to Turlock to run for Congress.
“We drive across district lines to go to work or take our kids to school,” Zilber said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a shared community of interest there.”
In all, Bay Area donors gave $7.4 million to the seven Democrats. Doug Linney, a strategist with the Democratic group Flip the 14, said he had never seen Democratic congressional campaigns from elsewhere in California make as strong an effort to raise funds in the Bay Area. Candidates held multiple in-person fundraising events, for example, in his hometown of Alameda.
“I’d barely ever seen any fundraisers for congressional candidates around here in the past,” Linney said.
One reason for the prevalence of outsider money: Almost all the Democratic contenders were first-time candidates who didn’t have established donor bases. Many of the GOP incumbents, on the other hand, had been in Congress or other elected offices for years and had built relationships with local donors.
Democratic candidates running in wealthier districts, like the Orange County’s 45th and 48th, also tended to get a larger chunk of their cash from close to home, while those in poorer districts like the Central Valley’s 10th and 21st had far more out-of-district fundraising.
Among out-of-state urban areas, Democrats got their most money from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia while Republicans got the most from Washington, New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Chicago.
While the Democratic fundraising advantage at the campaign level was important, both parties also benefited from huge spending by independent groups bankrolled by out-of-state billionaires like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They each gave millions of dollars to super PACs that don’t have donation limits.
Now, California Republican operatives picking up the pieces are wondering how they can reverse the Democratic candidates’ cash advantage in future elections.
“For a member of Congress to have the advantage of the incumbency and still be outspent in some cases three, four or five to one is overwhelming,” said Matt Rexroad, a GOP strategist who worked on Rep. Steve Knight’s losing Los Angeles County campaign. He singled out the impact of online fundraising tools like ActBlue, which makes it easy for fired-up Democrats to send small online donations to candidates across the country with just a few clicks.
Those donors included Lizzy LeRud, a 33-year-old postdoctoral fellow studying American poetry at Emory University in Atlanta, who sent $250 each to California Democrats Katie Porter and Katie Hill in October. Lerud, who had never made political donations before this year, decided to support female candidates like the two Katies in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing — and was surprised at how simple it was to give money through ActBlue.
“I understand that women don’t traditionally get the party funds and could use the outside support,” Lerud said. “I guess I’m part of a wave.”
We downloaded the list of 2017-18 individual itemized contributions for each candidate in California’s seven flipped districts from the Federal Election Commission. FEC reports do not specify which district a donor lives in, so we analyzed each donor’s address to determine whether they were giving to their local race or not. First, we used each donor’s ZIP Code Tabulation Area based on a table published by the U.S. Census Bureau. In cases where a donor’s ZIP code overlapped multiple congressional districts, which is fairly common, we used Google’s Civic Information API to search by street address and the House of Representatives website to search using the more precise nine-digit ZIP code, when available.
Donors who reported post office boxes as addresses were excluded from the analysis, as were a small portion of other donors whose addresses could not be accurately matched to a congressional district. Donations and loans from the candidates themselves were also excluded.