Tea Party Loving Republican Senate Candidates Surge on Small Donations

Tea Party-Loving Republican Senate Candidates Propelled by Cash from Ideological Groups, Small Donors

Thirteen Tea Party-backed Republicans want the U.S. Senate to experience a new brand of political brew after November 2. The question isn’t whether they will or won’t, but rather, how many of them will be in office?

And donations from people making modest campaign contributions appear poised to play an integral role in propelling them into office.


Dont_Tread_on_MeAn analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that some of the highest-profile Tea Party-supported candidates have collected significant sums of money from individuals contributing $200 or less, the Federal Election Commission’s threshold for itemized disclosure in campaign finance reports. These donors rarely account for more than 20 percent of a Senate candidate’s total fund-raising sums.

Sharron Angle, who emerged after a contentious primary as the Republican nominee against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has raised more than $2.05 million through June 30 from individuals giving $200 or less. At that time -- the date of most recent campaign finance reports -- these funds accounted for 58 percent of her war chest.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul, son of failed 2008 Republican presidential candidate and 11-term Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), reported $1.6 million in contributions from small donors as of June 30, the date of his most recent campaign finance reports. This represents about 46 percent of his overall total. Paul bested Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the handpicked candidate of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a May primary.

Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has raised a staggering $4.6 million from individuals giving $200 or less -- or about 36 percent of his war chest -- as of Aug. 4, the date of his most recent campaign finance filings. Support from these donors helped Rubio gain momentum and push Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican U.S. Senate primary.  Now, Crist continues to run for the seat as an independent, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) is running as the choice of the Democratic Party.

Even Pat Toomey, the well-connected former congressman and former president of the conservative Club for Growth, boasted small-donor support that accounts for about 30 percent of his overall campaign war chest. Toomey, who reported collecting about $3 million from individuals giving $200 or less as of June 30, drove incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter into the ranks of the Democratic Party to avoid a primary challenge. Instead of flourishing, Specter faltered, the victim of a successful left-wing primary challenge from Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.

And in Alaska and Delaware, where Tea Party-supported Republican Senate candidates unexpectedly toppled the choices of the party establishment, small donors provided key seed money for the insurgents’ campaigns -- and they may continue to play a big role as donors continue to open their wallets to the candidates after their primary victories.

Fifty-one percent of the first $283,000 that Sarah Palin-endorsed Joe Miller raised in Alaska came from small donors. Another 37 percent of the funds he used to defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski came from money he loaned himself, according to the most recent campaign finance report filed by his campaign, which covers his fund-raising through Aug. 4. And as Christine O’Donnell challenged Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), 45 percent of the initial $265,000 she reported raising as of Aug. 25 came from individuals giving $200 or less.

Thomas Mann, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said these details suggested a “successful mobilization of small donors by Tea Party-favored candidates.”

“I suspect the candidates have been beneficiaries without doing much of anything on their own to solicit these contributions,” Mann told OpenSecrets Blog. “It will be fascinating to see when the final contribution figures are available where they have a distinctive advantage with small donors and how large that advantage is. It appears that these and other conservative Republican candidates are being boosted by very large donors (independent spending campaigns) and many small ones.”

Of Democrat Senate candidates competing against Tea Party-backed Republicans this November, one of them with a jaw-dropping percentage of support from small donors is incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Feingold has raised more than $5.5 million from individuals giving $200 or less as of Aug. 25, the date of his most recent campaign finance filings. This represents 42 percent of Feingold’s fund-raising total, and stems, in part, from his national profile as a progressive star and his work as a champion of campaign finance reform.

Feingold’s opponent is Republican Ron Johnson, an accountant and plastics manufacturer who has invested more than $4.4 million of his own fortune into his campaign -- a sum that represents 71 percent of his fund-raising through Aug. 25.

The other Tea Party-supported Republican candidates identified by the Center for this analysis are: O'Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck of Colorado, Miller in Alaska, Mike Lee of Utah, John Raese of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Eric Wargotz of Maryland and Jim Huffman of Oregon.

Postcard_Map_of_West_VirginiaOf these candidates, Raese is deep-pocketed businessman, who has personally invested more than $2.4 million of his own funds in his Senate bid as of Aug. 8, the date of the most recent campaign finance reports for this race. Raese and his allies have relentlessly attacked popular Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who is vying to fill the seat, for his connections to President Barack Obama. New ads in the heated race -- once thought to be a shoo-in for Democrats -- argue that Manchin would be “Rubber Stamp Joe” or “Washington Joe” who “does whatever Obama wants.”

The most recently available campaign finance reports also show personal funds comprising the majority of funds raised by Wargotz, Huffman and Buck -- although Buck’s report dates from before his primary August upset against U.S. Chamber of Commerce-supported Jane Norton.

Of the itemized campaign contributions these 13 Tea Party-favored Republican candidates have received -- contributions that are required by law to contain information about a donor’s occupation and employer -- the most generous backer has been the Club for Growth.

All in all, the Club for Growth has contributed $1.2 million -- and counting -- in direct contributions to these candidates. That’s not including additional support they provide through independent expenditures, which are designed to benefit candidates through advertisements and messages but aren’t coordinated with candidates.

People who list their occupation as “retired” on FEC filings have also ponied up significant cash to help these candidates. These donors rank as the top “industry” backers to these 13 candidates, contributing $2.6 million overall, or an average of more than $200,000 per Tea Party-favored candidate.

Such contributions from retirees come at a time when Tea Party-backed candidates’ talk of reforming Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs has been in the limelight.

In the words of National Review editor and syndicated columnist Rich Lowry, these candidates have “grabbed the third rail of American politics, and in some cases jumped up on it and danced a jig” -- a collective action for which he argues should earn the candidates frequently “reviled as wild-eyed and irresponsible” high marks.

“You’re going to have to have eligibility changes for the younger people,” Rand Paul said on Fox News on Sunday. These changes, Paul has suggested, might include changing the age of eligibility, higher deductibles and co-payments for Medicare.

“To put our head in the sand and just say we're going to keep borrowing more money is not going to work,” Paul continued.

And Paul’s not alone in his talk of revamping these programs, nor about couching such promises with guarantees that they won’t affect current seniors.

“Three entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- are on a course that is as disturbing as it is unsustainable,” Lee, who is coasting toward victory in Utah, says on his campaign website. “While current Social Security beneficiaries must be held harmless, there needs to be a systemic overhaul to these programs, lest they bankrupt the country. To do so, people will need to realize that the benefits those older generations have had, may not be available in the future.”

Angle, for her part, argues on her website that “younger workers should be given the choice of staying in the current system or of investing in personalized accounts that they own and that can never be raided by politicians like Harry Reid.” She adds that adding that young workers should received a “guarantee that upon retirement they will be paid at least what they would have been paid under Social Security.” (View her statements in a PDF file here.)

And Rubio, similarly, says on his website: “Reforms are certainly necessary... It would be fundamentally unfair to make any benefit changes to those who are close to or are already retired.”

These Tea Party-backed politicos may be unique in their candor; they’re also not getting money from the usual sources.

Perhaps this is because Tea Party candidates are primed to advocate for conservative orthodoxy: reducing taxes and spending, scaling back the size of the federal government, repealing  Democrats’ massive health insurance overhaul, safeguarding their vision of family values, protecting individuals’ right to bear arms, preventing “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and their other top priorities.

racestowatchlogo-thumb-200x126-2371Regardless, Republican Senate candidates outside this Tea Party bloc have received an average of 300 percent more campaign contributions from lawyers and lobbyists, as well as the same percentage more from energy sector interests. They’ve also received an average of nearly 200 percent more campaign contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, as well as 125 percent more from the general business sector, which includes such industries as manufacturing, retail, tourism, live entertainment and trade associations.

Many of the traditional allies of Senate Republicans backed more establishment candidates with their contributions.

Consider the following differences in amounts raised, on average, by Republican Senate candidates not part of this Tea Party bloc versus Republicans who are part of this subset:

  • Insurance industry: 397 percent more to Republican Senate candidates who are not part of this Tea Party bloc
  • Commercial banks: 272 percent more
  • Oil and gas industry: 269 percent more
  • Republican leadership PACs: 171 percent more
  • Real estate industry: 158 percent more
  • Securities and investment industry: 145 percent more
  • Health professionals: 103 percent more

And the same goes for some high-profile donors.

The corporate PAC and individual employees of investment bank Goldman Sachs, for instance, have given about 224 percent more, on average, to Republican Senate candidates not part of this bloc -- $7,300 on average compared to $2,250.

And the Bluegrass Committee, the leadership PAC of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has given about twice as much, on average, to these candidates compared to the Tea Party-favored candidates -- an average contribution of about $7,100 compared to $3,450 to the Tea Party-fueled Senate candidates.

koch-thumb-160x41-1159Interestingly, the people and PAC of Koch Industries, the massive conglomerate specializing in petroleum refining and energy issues and founded by the libertarian-leaning conservative businessmen David and Charles Koch, have also favored the Senate Republican establishment picks this year. They’ve given about 120 percent more, on average, to non-Tea Party bloc GOP Senate candidates, with average contributions of $8,350 versus $3,875, respectively, according to the Center’s analysis.

That’s not to say that any of these 13 Tea Party-favored Republican Senate candidates aren’t getting any love from Koch Industries.

Rubio has raised $21,600 from the PAC and employees of Koch Industries, ranking him No. 4 among the company’s top beneficiaries, and Toomey ranks No. 7, collecting $15,000.

Furthermore, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the combative incumbent whose endorsements and financial assistance has helped fuel numerous insurgent candidates, ranks as the company’s No. 3 beneficiary, receiving $22,000 from the company’s PAC and employees since January 2009.

These Tea Party-embracing candidates have also received 120 percent more contributions than their non-Tea Party-favored Republican compatriots, on average, from ideological and single-issue groups classified by the Center as “conservative/Republican.”

DeMint’s leadership PAC actually ranks as the third-largest donor to these candidates as a whole. His PAC has contributed $154,400 -- or an average of about $11,900 -- not including the tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars his PAC has bundled from individual donors.

Of course, not all Tea Party-favored candidates have prevailed in Republican primaries this year.

Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment, soundly defeated Peter Schiff, the choice of many Tea Party activists, during Connecticut’s Senate primary in August. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fended off a right-wing primary challenge from former congressman and radio host J.D. Hayworth -- although over the course of the campaign, McCain’s stances on issues continued to shift to the right.

These 13 Tea Party-supported candidates are taking aim at the “political insidersauruses,” in the words of Tea Party-favored Maryland Republican candidate Wargotz in a hit YouTube ad. Should they succeed, they will surely be an influential bloc within the Republican caucus, and perhaps even help deliver the net gain of 10 seats the Republicans need to retake control of the Senate.

The following table shows the top 20 industries backing these 13 Tea Party-favored Republican Senate candidates.

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IndustryTotalAverage
Retired $2,624,369 $201,875
Republican/Conservative $2,572,142 $197,857
Securities & Investment $1,162,315 $89,409
Health Professionals $778,655 $59,897
Leadership PACs $747,193 $57,476
Lawyers/Law Firms $692,019 $53,232
Business Services $684,598 $52,661
Real Estate $682,882 $52,529
Misc Business $476,922 $36,686
General Contractors $463,548 $35,658
Misc Finance $453,073 $34,852
Insurance $344,385 $26,491
Crop Production & Basic Processing $338,838 $26,064
Oil & Gas $304,965 $23,459
Commercial Banks $233,854 $17,989
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing $211,550 $16,273
Accountants $183,208 $14,093
Computers/Internet $169,421 $13,032
Food & Beverage $163,905 $12,608
Food Processing & Sales $162,410 $12,493


The following table shows the top 20 industries backing the other 23 current Republican Senate candidates whose candidacies have been less fueled by the Tea Party:

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IndustryTotalAverage
Retired $6,123,299 $266,230
Securities & Investment $5,046,775 $219,425
Lawyers/Law Firms $3,970,477 $172,629
Leadership PACs $3,577,688 $155,552
Real Estate $3,111,123 $135,266
Insurance $3,029,909 $131,735
Health Professionals $2,793,375 $121,451
Misc Finance $2,011,794 $87,469
Republican/Conservative $1,778,478 $77,325
Oil & Gas $1,989,597 $86,504
Lobbyists $1,987,891 $86,430
Commercial Banks $1,540,311 $66,970
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing $1,437,702 $62,509
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products $1,383,341 $60,145
Business Services $1,277,035 $55,523
Pro-Israel $1,265,768 $55,033
General Contractors $1,144,922 $49,779
Electric Utilities $1,125,919 $48,953
Misc Business $1,002,710 $43,596
Retail Sales $1,098,781 $47,773


The following table details the sector-level differences in support for Tea Party-favored Republican Senate candidates and Republican Senate candidates not part of this bloc.

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SectorNon-Tea Party GOP Total
NTP GOP AverageTea Party-Favored GOP Total
TP GOP Average
% More to Average
Non-Tea Party Candidate
Agribusiness $3,169,898 $137,822 $880,610 $67,739 103%
Communications/Electronics $3,040,971 $132,216 $400,406 $30,800 329%
Construction $3,021,416 $131,366 $851,150 $65,473 101%
Defense $1,329,900 $57,822 $26,890 $2,068 2695%
Energy & Natural Resources $4,409,742 $191,728 $610,180 $46,937 308%
Finance, Insurance & Real Estate $16,304,212 $708,879 $3,126,058 $240,466 195%
Health $6,003,051 $261,002 $1,049,125 $80,702 223%
Lawyers & Lobbyists $5,958,368 $259,059 $830,502 $63,885 306%
Transportation $2,642,793 $114,904 $438,975 $33,767 240%
Misc Business $8,272,190 $359,660 $2,081,439 $160,111 125%
Labor $83,900 $3,648 $11,750 $904 304%
Ideological/Single-Issue $7,340,199 $319,139 $3,637,158 $279,781 14%


Note: the fund-raising figures for these candidates may shift as additional donations pour into their campaign coffers. Third-quarter campaign finance reports for all candidates will be submitted to the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 15. The final information voters will officially get from campaigns about their contributions will come on Oct. 21, as campaigns file "pre-general" reports detailing donations received between Oct. 1 and Oct. 13.

Center for Responsive Politics senior researcher Douglas Weber and reporter Lauren Hepler contributed to this report.