Where the Money Comes From
A little bird just sent LL a pretty interesting breakdown of the current crop of campaign contributions that suggests that the District just isn't into grassroots fundraising.
As The Washington Times noted today, D.C. pols are pretty sloppy when it comes to filling out campaign reports. This makes it hard to classify different donors, which makes it hard to break down where the money comes from by industry, labor groups, etc. The best you can do with what's easily available is to break down whether donations come from a corporation or an individual (who may or may not be tied to a corporate donor). WAMU did just that and found that the percentage of corporate donors is on the rise.
But LL's clever bird came up with another way to show the influence of deep-pocketed donors in campaigns: By dividing all the donations in the current cycle by the amount given. Large donations are classified as between $400 and $500 (or $1,000) in at-large races. Medium donations are between $100 and $400. And small donations are anything under $100. (Note: These kind of breakdowns would be routine if the Office of Campaign Finance invested in a decent website.)
What's striking when you do this breakdown is the tiny percentage of overall contributions that come from small donors. Remember Barack Obama's successful small donor fundraising? Yeah, well, that ain't happening in the District.
Councilmember Vincent Orange has raised more than $100,000, but only $120 (or .11 percent of the total) came from small donors (including $20 in cash from a "John Doe"). Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who is running unopposed, has raised more than $300,000. But less than 1 percent of that total has come from small donors. Other incumbents, including At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, have similarly low numbers. Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser's raised nearly $10,000 in small donations (which is still less than 5 percent of her total take so far), but that makes her look positively Obama-esque compared to her colleagues.
And if you assume that individuals or corporations that give the maximum allowable amount (or close to it) are probably looking at these donations more like investments than civic do-gooding, the numbers really tell a story. A total of 73 percent of overall contributions fall into the "large" category, with some candidates (like Orange, again) getting virtually all their money from big donors. You can quibble with the overall assumption, and there will always be exceptions, but it's worth noting that almost every donation LL's ever seen tied to one of the city's power brokers has been at the maximum allowable amount.
Here's the chart:
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Photo by zzzack via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic