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California donors spend $38 million trying to tilt Senate races around the country

Seema Mehta and Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Californians have spent $38 million and counting trying to tilt Senate contests across the nation, making the state one of the top sources of campaign contributions in races that will decide which party controls the body next year, according to campaign finance disclosures. That's despite the state not having a Senate race on its ballot in November.

There are 35 Senate races being decided later this year, and California is among the top five donor states for at least one candidate in every contest, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. In many cases, candidates raised more from California than in their home state.

Californians have contributed to candidates on both sides of the aisle, but far more money is pouring into Democratic coffers.

Prominent fundraisers in the state say the level of energy among Democratic donors is unprecedented and attributable to despair over President Donald Trump's tenure and anger over the slim Republican majority in the Senate blocking legislation passed by the Democratically controlled House.

"People that never cared that much about politics are just wild now, just livid. There's this kind of desperate energy to fix this," said Susie Tompkins-Buell, a major San Francisco-based Democratic donor who co-founded the clothing brand Esprit and outdoor retailer North Face. "I've never seen anything like it."

Tompkins-Buell sends weekly emails to her circle of friends, donors and political allies containing her thoughts about recent developments in politics, as well as news articles and notices of upcoming opportunities to meet candidates. A recent blast included links to virtual fundraisers for 12 Democratic challengers and three incumbent Democratic senators.


The online fundraisers are a far cry from the pre-pandemic gatherings at Hollywood celebrities' mansions and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs' estates. Gone are the cocktail receptions, catered meals and photograph opportunities with candidates. But the online events have been lucrative.

FEC filings show some prominent Senate candidates have raised more in itemized donations from Californians than from donors in their respective home states. They include Sens. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield; and Amy McGrath, the Democrat challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Both candidates in the election in Maine, Republican incumbent Susan Collins and challenger Sara Gideon, and in South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison, have also brought in more from California than their home states.

These findings are based on fundraising disclosures filed with the FEC of donations over $200 to candidate committees between Jan. 1, 2019, and summer 2020. They do not include small-dollar donations or checks written to super PACs or other outside groups.


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