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Big campaign donations flow from state to state, causing confusion

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 8th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The political donations of billionaires and corporations to Super PACs have shone a spotlight on the impact of the rich and powerful on the presidential campaigns. However, as the Investigative News Network analysis of contributions by wealthy individuals in seven states reveals, there are millions flowing into state, federal and even local campaigns from parties and committees nationwide.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - As an example, Colorado software entrepreneur and gay rights activist Tim Gill has given $450,000 to Colorado independent expenditure committees since last year. He's also given generously out of state, such as the $100,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee and $25,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party. Gill has also given smaller amounts to 26 candidates and causes in that time, from President Barack Obama to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, to candidates running for the Colorado state house.

Gill has doled out nearly $3.7 million to state and federal causes and campaigns in the past five years, making him the largest political donor from Colorado -- who wasn't funding his own campaign.

Gill is only the tip of the iceberg, as wealthy Iowans have also donated to candidates, parties and causes in New Jersey and Washington State this election cycle. Donors from Missouri have also given to political parties and campaigns in Tennessee and Indiana. Money from Vermont has flowed into Wisconsin, from Colorado into Pennsylvania, from Massachusetts to Washington State and from California into Georgia.

The findings illustrate what Michael J. Malbin, director of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, DC has been seeing in his own research.

"Politics is becoming increasingly national," Malbin says. "Means of communication, fundraising and also campaigning are becoming national -- and it's affecting state and even local races."

This isn't the same as the century-plus-old participation by national corporations and labor unions in state politics, he said.

"There are a much broader variety of actors, often ideologically motivated, who are involved now. And they can bring resources to bear that can overwhelm local resources," he said. "It does create questions about representation that could be troubling."

To date, there is no single government database that captures all of the contributions by any prolific donor. They are recorded in piles of reports to federal and state elections officials by the campaigns and causes that have received the money.

In order to arrive at these statistics, the Center for Responsive Politics collected and analyzed contributions on the federal level. The National Institute on Money in State Politics in turn gathered and studied contributions in state races, merged their data on the top donors.

The data do not include so-called "dark money" contributions to 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofits, which are exempt from campaign disclosure requirements.

Supplemented with reporting by INN-member newsrooms across the country, the analysis showed that looking at state and federal donations together gives a more complete picture of the most generous political contributors in each state, and where the funds were distributed. In some cases, to look at only one would grossly misrepresent who the top donors even are.

Of California's top 10 donors, both this year and last year, four contributors gave overwhelmingly to state causes and campaigns while the other six have given most heavily on the federal level. Only by merging both sets of records does the full picture of the state's most active political contributors emerge.

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