A fundraising pattern is becoming all too common for Democrats in swing states. Instead of raising funds within the state where they are running, their fundraising profile looks more like someone running for national office. In Georgia, it started in earnest when Senator John Ossoff ran in a special election for Georgia’s 6th District in 2017. The race was the most expensive House race to date, but Ossoff hardly raised any money inside Georgia. A New York Times analysis found:
“Most of the itemized contributions to Mr. Ossoff were from large Democratic states like California and New York,” a New York Times report noted. “Just 14 percent came from Georgia, compared with 56 percent of Ms. Handel’s contributions.” In his Spring 2017 financial records, Ossoff reported receiving 7,218 donations from California and just 808 donations from Georgia.
Then Democrat Stacey Abrams displayed a similar fundraising pattern in 2018, when she ran against Governor Brian Kemp for the first time. The Power PAC bankrolled her primary campaign, spending $721,243 in the primary. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
Long before liberal pundits and MSNBC jumped on Abrams’ bandwagon, she was getting strategic help and money from a small crew of Bay Area political operatives and wealthy donors. She’s about to get $10 million more for the general election from that group, headed by San Franciscans Steve Phillips and his wife, Susan Sandler.
To them, Abrams represents what the Democratic Party should be doing to win back red states like Georgia as a way to take control of Congress and the presidency.
The plan: Forget chasing working-class white voters who backed Donald Trump in 2016. Instead, appeal to a coalition that includes people of color, young voters and progressive whites.
It happened again when Democrats Ossof and Raphael Warnock ran for the Senate in 2020. Each raised a record $100 million between the general and the runoff, with 95% of those funds coming from out-of-state. A New York Post analysis of election filings showed their biggest donors were from New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Each barely raised $2.5 million in the state, with the remainder coming from non-Georgians.
And here we go again. Abrams is challenging Kemp again in the governor’s race in Georgia. We call it a grudge match. Governor Kemp reports raising nearly four times as much money from Georgia residents as his Democrat challenger has, but Abrams is outraising him significantly. As of June 30, 2022, the bulk of Abrams’s donations come from out of state.
Governor Brian Kemp reports raising $31.5 million through the end of June, with $26.2 million coming from Georgia. By contrast, the Abrams campaign reports raising $49.6 million, with only $7 million coming from Georgia. According to Axios:
In one of the highest-profile gubernatorial battles in the country, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is leveraging a vast pool of out-of-state money.
Why it matters: Abrams’ fundraising profile — which consists of huge backing from wealthy coastal Democrats and a massive base of small-dollar support — is more typical of a leading national candidate than a gubernatorial contender.
Driving the news: Abrams’ campaign and leadership committee have reported receiving about $7 million from Georgia donors, or just over 14% of the nearly $50 million they’ve combined to raise this cycle.
The analysis noted that the state campaign finance laws only require disclosing the origin of a donation if it is over $100. Abrams has $6.7 million in these unitemized donations. However, even if every contribution came from Georgia, only 28% of her campaign cash would originate in the state. By contrast, at least 83% of Kemp’s fundraising comes from Georgia.
Axios contends that if the trend of donations from outside the state holds, Abrams will be the only gubernatorial nominee since the 1990s to receive most of their funds from out-of-state. However, this pattern seems awfully close to what was reported in 2018 (when she and Kemp first faced off) and certainly matches what happened in the 2020 Senate runoffs.
Now Georgia is not the only swing state target. Between January 1 and July 17, 2022, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, raised $9.5 million, boosted by celebrities and donors from every state:
A California movie director, a Nevada politician, a Hawaii architect and a rancher from Montana provided four of the more than 90,000 contributions that resulted in a record fundraising haul for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection campaign over the first seven months of 2022.
From Jan. 1, through July 17, donors from every state gave money to support Whitmer, helping the Democrat raise $9.5 million, a total that’s nearly triple what the last two incumbent Michigan governors raised over a similar time frame.
One reason donations for these candidates come out of New York and California is that wealthy Democrat donors in those states have very little to worry about. The election laws are tilted in their favor, and it only took one tech billionaire to save Governor Gavin Newsom from recall. The rest of them can meddle in other states and fund Democrat candidates who support the preferred policies of people living in California and New York.
Herein lies the problem. Neither Stacey Abrams, Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, nor Gretchen Whitmer will be accountable to the residents of their state after they are elected. President Biden currently has a -37 net approval rating in Georgia. Yet, our senators are voting in lockstep with the Biden agenda, making everything more expensive and scarce for working Georgians. Warnock and Ossoff are accountable to their donors, not the residents of the state each represents.
This trend of outside funding of state and local races needs to end. Even local House races are too expensive for many qualified Americans to contemplate. Senators should represent the voters’ interests in their state, not Wall Street financiers. Governors should be accountable to the residents of their state, not Silicon Valley billionaires.
Money in politics is a problem. It is just not the problem AOC talks about. If Georgia wanted to be California, the Department of Natural Resources would stop cleaning our forests of the accumulated brush and end controlled burns. Then we could incinerate half the state every summer too. If Michigan idolized New York, they would be lighting up buildings in Detroit pink as they celebrated codifying the right of a mother to kill her child until it takes its first breath. Since that does appear to be what these states want, wealthy coastal elites should mind their own business. And if they can’t, legislation should make sure they do.