Cover Charge – The Price of Political Participation and Need for Campaign Finance Reform



Joint session of Congress (Photo: White House / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 05.17.2016
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief

Campaign finance reform has been the rallying cry of only one candidate this election cycle – Sen. Bernie Sanders.  He emphasizes his campaign’s dependence on individual contributions averaging $27 each.  He has called for the need to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision to correct the abuse and corruption endemic in our campaign finance system.

From The Center for Responsive Politics, the numbers back up his claims that campaign spending is wildly out of control.


Stats At a Glance

Every election cycle brings its own brand of excitement — and lots of money. For past cycles as well as the current one, here’s where you can find out who raised the most, where it came from, the most (and least) expensive races, top donors, how incumbents did versus challengers and more.




Cost of Election

Here are the amounts spent on all federal elections, by cycle. These figures include all money spent by presidential candidates, Senate and House candidates, political parties and independent interest groups trying to influence federal elections:





Incumbent Advantage

Based on data released by the FEC on 05/17/2016. Figures include all candidates who have filed reports.



PAC Dollars to Incumbents, Challengers, and Open Seat Candidates

PACs Stick with Incumbents

Political action committees have one overriding mandate: get the most bang for the buck. To maximize their dollars, nearly all PACs – particularly those of business groups – give the overwhelming proportion of their campaign dollars to incumbents. With congressional re-election rates typically in the 90 percent range, from their point of view that’s a sound investment. Labor groups also give heavily to incumbents. Ideological groups, on the other hand, are much more likely to take a chance on political newcomers.



Most Expensive Races

Some Congressional races are seeing more spent by super PACs and other outside groups than the candidates themselves. Use the options below to see the most expensive races based on either campaign committees alone or candidate campaign committees combined with outside spending by groups not affiliated with the campaigns.

Based on data released by the FEC on 05/17/2016.







*Special Election



Only a tiny fraction of Americans actually give campaign contributions to political candidates, parties or PACs. The ones who give contributions large enough to be itemized (over $200) is even smaller. The impact of those donations, however, is huge. Read a detailed analysis of federal contributions by the top 1 percent of 1 percent of the population in the 2014 election cycle.

Population numbers are based on U.S. Census estimates as of Dec. 1, 2010

The numbers on this page are based on contributions from individuals giving $200 or more. All donations took place during the 2015-2016 cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission on 4/21/16.






* Amounts are in millions of dollars.

Top Individual Contributors: All Federal Contributions

Here are the individuals who have dipped deepest into their own pockets for campaign contributions to federal candidates, parties, political action committees, 527 organizations, and Carey committees. Only contributions to Democrats and Republicans or liberal and conservative outside groups are included in calculating the percentages the donor has given to either party.

Hard money includes all money subject to federal election limits, including money to parties, candidates, and traditional political action committees.

Outside money includes all money to super PACs, unlimited contributions to Carey committees (hybrid PACs), and all money to federally-focused 527 organizations.

NOTE: Figures include contributions from spouses and dependent children. Additionally, federal law prohibits the use of contributor information for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for any commercial purpose.

Based on data released by the FEC on 04/21/16.

Partisan Tilt:

Solidly Democrat/Liberal
Leans Democrat/LiberalSolidly Republican/Conservative
Leans Republican/Conservative
On the Fence

Column 1:  Rank
Column 2:  Contributor
Column 3:  Total Contributions
Column 4:  To Dems & Liberals
Column 5:  To Reps & Conservatives
Column 6:  Percentage to Dems & Liberals

Column 7:  Percentage to Reps & Conservatives


1 Mercer, Robert L. & Diana
Renaissance Technologies
East Setauket, NY
$18,009,000 $0 $16,884,000 0% 100%
2 Steyer, Thomas & F. & Kathryn Ann
Fahr LLC/Tom Steyer
San Francisco, CA
$13,430,242 $13,430,244 $0 100% 0%
3 Singer, Paul
Elliott Management
New York, NY
$11,464,673 $0 $11,364,673 0% 100%
4 Uihlein, Richard & Elizabeth
Uline Inc
Lake Forest, IL
$10,953,300 $0 $8,547,300 0% 100%
5 Wilks, Staci
Wilks Brothers
Cisco, TX
$10,160,800 $0 $10,160,800 0% 100%
6 Neuberger, Toby R.
Caprock Partners
Nashville, TN
$10,016,400 $0 $10,016,400 0% 100%
7 Simons, James H. & Marilyn H.
Renaissance Technologies/Simons Fdtn
New York, NY
$9,979,700 $9,944,700 $25,000 100% 0%
8 Griffin, Kenneth C. & Anne D.
Citadel Invest Group/Aragon Global Mgt
Chicago, IL
$9,821,050 $0 $9,621,050 0% 100%
9 Cameron, Ronald M. & Nina J.
Mountaire Corp
North Little Rock, AR
$8,986,100 $0 $8,691,800 0% 100%
10 Soros, George
Soros Fund Management
New York, NY
$8,558,336 $8,548,336 $0 100% 0%
11 Ricketts, John J. & Marlene M.
TD Ameritrade
Omaha, NE
$7,885,859 $0 $7,885,859 0% 100%
12 Saban, Haim & Cheryl
Saban Capital Group
Los Angeles, CA
$7,776,185 $7,766,185 $0 100% 0%
13 Braman, Norman
Braman Motorcars
Miami, FL
$7,254,700 $0 $7,254,700 0% 100%
14 Sussman, S. Donald
Paloma Partners
Greenwich, CT
$7,117,030 $7,112,030 $0 100% 0%
15 Pritzker, James R. & Mary K.
Pritzker Group
Evanston, IL
$6,389,100 $6,384,100 $0 100% 0%
16 Stephens, Warren
Stephens Inc
Little Rock, AR
$6,080,323 $0 $5,830,323 0% 100%
17 Cohen, Steven A.
Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation
Greenwich, CT
$6,011,659 $5,400 $6,006,259 0% 100%
18 Bloomberg, Michael R.
City of New York, NY
New York, NY
$5,511,394 $61,600 $10,800 85% 15%
19 Perenchio, A. Jerrold & Margaret
Chartwell Partners
Los Angeles, CA
$5,177,027 $0 $5,156,027 0% 100%
20 Ellison, Lawrence J.
Oracle Corp
Walnut Creek, CA
$5,141,040 $-2,400 $5,143,440 0% 100%
21 Wilks, Daniel
Wilks Brothers
Cisco, TX
$5,135,800 $0 $5,135,800 0% 100%
22 Eychaner, Fred
Newsweb Corp
Chicago, IL
$5,026,478 $5,026,478 $0 100% 0%
23 McNair, Robert
Houston Texans
$4,163,800 $0 $4,153,800 0% 100%
24 Marcus, Bernard & Billi Wilma
Marcus Foundation
Atlanta, GA
$3,625,300 $0 $3,619,250 0% 100%
25 Fernandez, Miguel B. & Constance
MBF Healthcare Partners
Coral Gables, FL
$3,568,220 $-4,800 $3,558,020 -0% 100%
26 Michael K. Vlock
Branford, CT
$3,435,600 $0 $3,435,600 0% 100%
27 Hendricks, Diane M.
Abc Supply
Beloit, WI
$3,423,900 $0 $3,423,900 0% 100%
28 Yass, Jeffrey S. & Janine
Susquehanna International Group
Haverford, PA
$3,172,100 $500 $3,171,600 0% 100%
29 Ansary, Hushang & Shahla
Stewart & Stevenson
Houston, TX
$2,968,700 $0 $2,968,700 0% 100%
30 Woods, Laure L.
Portola Valley, CA
$2,927,900 $2,927,900 $0 100% 0%
31 Sandler, Herbert M.
Herb & Marion Sandler/Sandler Foundation
San Francisco, CA
$2,829,900 $2,829,900 $0 100% 0%
32 Robertson, Julian H.
Tiger Management
Locust Valley, NY
$2,693,669 $0 $2,193,669 0% 100%
33 Asness, Clifford S. & Laurel E.
AQR Capital Management
Greenwich, CT
$2,652,400 $0 $2,652,400 0% 100%
34 Klarman, Seth A. & Beth S.
Baupost Group
Chestnut Hill, MA
$2,634,900 $34,300 $2,495,600 1% 99%
35 Lessing, Stephen M. Sr.
Barclays Capital
New York, NY
$2,627,200 $0 $2,627,200 0% 100%
36 Laufer, Henry B. & Marsha Z.
Renaissance Technologies
Lantana, FL
$2,589,051 $2,588,511 $0 100% 0%
37 Faison, Jay W.
Clear Path Foundation
Charlotte, NC
$2,544,182 $0 $524,182 0% 100%
38 Abraham, S. Daniel & Ewa
Slim Fast
West Palm Beach, FL
$2,421,900 $2,421,900 $0 100% 0%
39 Obendorf, William E. & Susan C.
Oberndorf Enterprises
San Francisco, CA
$2,416,006 $0 $2,416,006 0% 100%
40 Rees-Jones, Trevor
Chief Oil & Gas
Dallas, TX
$2,399,693 $0 $2,399,693 0% 100%
41 Stryker, Jon
Arcus Foundation
New York, NY
$2,343,542 $2,338,542 $0 100% 0%
42 Banister, Scott
Angel Investor
Half Moon Bay, CA
$2,302,250 $2,000 $2,277,750 0% 100%
43 Wexner, Leslie H. & Abigail S.
Limited Brands
Columbus, OH
$2,241,280 $5,200 $2,216,080 0% 100%
44 Tuna, Cari
Good Ventures
San Francisco, CA
$2,165,000 $0 $0 0% 0%
45 Humphreys, David C. & Debra G.
TAMKO Building Products
Joplin, MO
$2,136,200 $0 $2,136,200 0% 100%
46 Schwab, Charles R. & Helen O.
Charles Schwab & Co
San Francisco, CA
$2,129,000 $0 $2,119,000 0% 100%
47 Macricostas, George
RagingWire Enterprise Solutions
Incline Village, NV
$2,115,575 $0 $2,115,575 0% 100%
48 Lewis, Daniel R. & Jan
Coral Gables, FL
$2,109,000 $108,000 $1,000 99% 1%
49 Kinder, Richard D. & Nancy G.
Kinder Morgan Inc
Houston, TX
$2,095,929 $0 $2,095,929 0% 100%
50 Theil, Peter
Thiel Capital
San Francisco, CA
$2,018,100 $0 $2,013,100 0% 100%
51 Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee Family Foundation
Cambridge, MA
$2,013,902 $2,013,902 $0 100% 0%
52 Perlmutter, Laura
Lake Worth, FL
$2,000,000 $0 $2,000,000 0% 100%
53 Rastin, Tom
Ariel Corp
Mt Vernon, OH
$1,978,300 $0 $1,977,300 0% 100%
54 McMahon, Vincent K. & Linda E.
World Wrestling Entertainment
Greenwich, CT
$1,897,000 $0 $1,887,000 0% 100%
55 Foster, Paul L. & Alejandra De La Vega
Western Refining
El Paso, TX
$1,895,200 $0 $1,890,200 0% 100%
56 Schwartz, Bernard L. & Irene
Loral Space & Communications
New York, NY
$1,808,500 $1,803,500 $0 100% 0%
57 Childs, John W. & Marlene I.
JW Childs Assoc
Vero Beach, FL
$1,762,158 $0 $1,402,158 0% 100%
58 Pat Stryker
Bohemian Foundation
Fort Collins, CO
$1,755,500 $1,750,500 $0 100% 0%
59 Johnson, Charles B. & Ann L.
Franklin Resources
Hillsborough, CA
$1,722,400 $0 $1,715,400 0% 100%
60 Marcus, George M. & Judith
Marcus & Millichap
Palo Alto, CA
$1,704,150 $1,691,450 $2,700 100% 0%
61 Shaw, David E. & Beth K.
DE Shaw Research
New York, NY
$1,699,800 $1,699,800 $0 100% 0%
62 Gilbert, Daniel
Quicken Loans
Detriot, MI
$1,698,600 $5,400 $1,678,200 0% 100%
63 Adelson, Sheldon G. & Miriam O.
Las Vegas Sands/Adelson Drug Clinic
Las Vegas, NV
$1,613,400 $20,000 $1,573,400 1% 99%
64 Devos, Richard Sr. & Helen J.
Amway/Alticor Inc
Grand Rapids, MI
$1,588,700 $0 $1,573,700 0% 100%
65 Warren, Kelcy L.
Energy Transfer Partners
Dallas, TX
$1,585,400 $0 $1,585,400 0% 100%
66 Bouchard, Morton S. III
Bouchard Transportation
Melville, NY
$1,538,500 $0 $1,538,500 0% 100%
67 Kendrick, Earl G. Jr. & Randy P.
Arizona Diamondbacks
Paradise Valley, AZ
$1,480,500 $0 $1,473,000 0% 100%
68 Chouset, Gary
Edison Chouest Offshore
Galliano, LA
$1,414,500 $10,800 $1,403,700 1% 99%
69 Day, Robert A. Jr. & Kelly
TCW Group
Los Angeles, CA
$1,396,765 $2,700 $1,373,665 0% 100%
70 Arnott, Robert D.
Research Affiliates LLC
Newport Beach, CA
$1,387,321 $0 $1,377,321 0% 100%
71 Perelman, Ronald & Chapman, Anna
MacAndrews & Forbes
New York, NY
$1,375,531 $116,400 $1,248,881 9% 92%
72 Katzenberg, Jeffrey & Marilyn
Dreamworks Animation SKG
Los Angeles, CA
$1,375,200 $1,375,200 $0 100% 0%
73 David G. Herro
Harris Assoc
Chicago, IL
$1,358,000 $0 $1,358,000 0% 100%
74 Buckley, Walter W. Jr
Buckley Muething Capital Management
Bethlehem, PA
$1,331,500 $0 $1,326,500 0% 100%
75 Freeman, Bradford M.
Freeman Spogli & Co
Los Angeles, CA
$1,284,131 $1,000 $1,270,031 0% 100%
76 Sinquefield, Rex A. & Jeanne C.
Show Me Institute
Westphalia, MO
$1,283,300 $0 $1,283,300 0% 100%
77 Abrams, J.J. & McGrath, Kathleen
Bad Robot Productions/Producer
Beverly Hills, CA
$1,276,038 $1,275,768 $0 100% 0%
78 Druckenmiller, Stanley
Duquesne Family Office
New York, NY
$1,232,422 $0 $1,232,422 0% 100%
79 Rosenthal, Richard H.
Rosenthal Foundation
Cincinnati, OH
$1,229,600 $1,224,600 $0 100% 0%
80 DeVos, Richard Jr. & Betsy
Windquest Group
Grand Rapids, MI
$1,227,025 $0 $1,201,275 0% 100%
81 Klein, Ben
Platinum Health Care
Skokie, IL
$1,227,000 $21,600 $1,205,400 2% 98%
82 Silberstein, Stephen M.
Belvedere, CA
$1,225,000 $1,223,500 $1,500 100% 0%
83 Spielberg, Steven & Capshaw, Kate
DreamWorks SKG
Los Angeles, CA
$1,215,600 $1,214,400 $0 100% 0%
84 Kovner, Bruce & Suzie
Caxton Assoc
New York, NY
$1,186,280 $0 $1,186,280 0% 100%
85 McInerney, Thomas E. & Paula G.
Bluff Point Assoc
Westport, CT
$1,165,400 $0 $1,165,400 0% 100%
86 Hoffman, Alfred Jr.
Hoffman Partners
North Palm Beach, FL
$1,161,817 $0 $1,156,817 0% 100%
87 Crow, Harlan R. & Katherine R.
Crow Holdings
Dallas, TX
$1,152,124 $0 $1,152,124 0% 100%
88 Manocherian, Yael
Woodbranch Investments
New York, NY
$1,129,400 $279,000 $820,400 25% 75%
89 Nau, John L. III & Barbara
Silver Eagle Distributors
Houston, TX
$1,119,745 $0 $1,074,745 0% 100%
90 Gilliam, Richard B. & Leslie F.
Cumberland Resources
Keswick, VA
$1,118,100 $0 $1,118,100 0% 100%
91 Busch, August III & Virginia
St. Peters, MO
$1,104,000 $13,100 $1,080,900 1% 99%
92 Mostyn, J. Steve & Anderson, Amber
Mostyn Law Firm
Houston, TX
$1,103,600 $1,103,600 $0 100% 0%
93 Stern, Marc I. & Eva S.
TCW Group
Malibu, CA
$1,092,580 $0 $1,072,580 0% 100%
94 Schwarzman, Steven A. & Christine
Blackstone Group
New York, NY
$1,062,945 $5,425 $1,057,520 1% 100%
95 Satter, Muneer & Hertel, Kristen
Goldman Sachs
Winnetka, IL
$1,056,700 $0 $1,056,700 0% 100%
96 Tull, Thomas J.
Legendary Pictures
Load Angeles, CA
$1,050,600 $1,049,600 $0 100% 0%
97 Bacon, Louis Moore
Moore Capital Management
New York, NY
$1,031,600 $2,700 $1,028,900 0% 100%
98 Alger, Fred & Gale
Palm Beach, FL
$1,030,800 $0 $1,030,800 0% 100%
99 Daniel & Margaret Loeb
Third Point LLC
New York City, NY
$1,027,100 $75,500 $941,600 7% 93%
100 Stephenson, Thomas F.
Sequoia Capital
Atherton, CA
$1,023,477 $0 $1,023,477 0% 100%

Top PACs

An institution in American politics for decades, political action committees collect contributions from employees (in the case of businesses) or members (in the case of labor unions or ideological groups) and direct them to candidates and party committees. Contributions to and from PACs are limited by federal law.

Totals include subsidiaries and affiliated PACs, if any.

*For ease of identification, the names used in this section are those of the organization connected with the PAC, rather than the official PAC name. For example, the “Coca-Cola Company Nonpartisan Committee for Good Government” is simply listed as “Coca-Cola Co.”

Based on data released by the FEC on 4/21/16.

Top 20 PAC Contributors to Federal Candidates – ALL


Top 20 PAC Contributors to Federal Candidates – DEMOCRATS


Top 20 PAC Contributors to Federal Candidates – REPUBLICANS


Top 20 PAC by Total Receipts


Top 20 PAC by Total Expenditures


Top 20 PAC by Total Independent Expenditures



Spreading the Wealth

With so many members of Congress facing weak (or no) opponents when they run for re-election, they often have a surplus of campaign funds that can be spent elsewhere. In recent years – especially as the balance of power in the House and Senate has remained close – members have been strongly encouraged to share their excess money and deliver some of it to races that are truly competitive. Sometimes the money goes directly to the needy candidates; sometimes it goes to party committees, which spread it to the most strategic races. The money is delivered in two ways: either directly from the member’s campaign committee or through contributions from the member’s “leadership PAC.”





Fundraising Totals – Who Has Raised the Most

All figures are for all candidates in the 2016 election and are based on FEC reports filed through 05/17/2016.

*Incumbents running for re-election in 2016.



Self-Funding Candidates

As the costs of running for office have escalated, more and more candidates are jumping into politics using their personal fortune, rather than trying to raise all those funds from other people. Though they don’t lack for money, self-funded candidates typically lose at the polls.

Based on data released by the FEC on 05/17/2016.




Candidate-to-Candidate Giving

Based on data released by the FEC on 04/16/2016.

Top Overall Donors

1. John Calvin Fleming Jr (R-La)
(Louisiana Senate)
2. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif)
(California District 23)
3. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
(New York Senate)
4. John Boehner (R-Ohio)
(Ohio District 08)
5. Steve Scalise (R-La)
(Louisiana District 01)
6. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md)
(Maryland District 05)
7. Paul Ryan (R-Wis)
(Wisconsin District 01)
8. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)
(North Carolina District 10)
9. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif)
(California District 12)
10. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash)
(Washington District 05)
11. Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
(New York District 14)
12. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-Ohio)
(Ohio District 12)
13. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas)
(Texas District 05)
14. James E. Clyburn (D-SC)
(South Carolina District 06)
15. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)
(Kentucky Senate)
16. ex-Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla)
(Presidential Candidate)
17. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah)
(Utah Senate)
18. Greg Walden (R-Ore)
(Oregon District 02)
19. Kevin Brady (R-Texas)
(Texas District 08)
20. Harry Reid (D-Nev)
(Nevada Senate)

Top Recipients

2. Clinton, Hillary (D)
(Presidential Candidate)
3. Portman, Rob (R)
(Ohio Senate)
4. Bennet, Michael F (D)
(Colorado Senate)
5. Ayotte, Kelly (R)
(New Hampshire Senate)
6. Poliquin, Bruce (R)
(Maine District 02)
7. Toomey, Pat (R)
(Pennsylvania Senate)
8. Kirk, Mark (R)
(Illinois Senate)
9. Johnson, Ron (R)
(Wisconsin Senate)
10. Heck, Joe (R)
(Nevada Senate)
11. Murphy, Patrick (D)
(Florida Senate)
12. Isakson, Johnny (R)
(Georgia Senate)
13. Burr, Richard (R)
(North Carolina Senate)
14. Murkowski, Lisa (R)
(Alaska Senate)
15. Strickland, Ted (D)
(Ohio Senate)
16. Blumenthal, Richard (D)
(Connecticut Senate)
17. Blunt, Roy (R)
(Missouri Senate)
18. McCain, John (R)
(Arizona Senate)
19. Curbelo, Carlos (R)
(Florida District 26)
20. Murray, Patty (D)
(Washington Senate)
21. Coffman, Mike (R)
(Colorado District 06)

Winning Vs. Spending

Money doesn’t always equal victory — but it usually does. Sometimes contributions flow to the candidate who is already viewed as being much stronger than his or her opponent. Sometimes the money goes to the less well-known candidate and results in a surge in popularity. Still, at the end of the day, the candidate who wins despite having spent less money is an outlier.
The number of green dollar signs (for winners) and grey dollar signs (for second-highest vote-getter) represents the spending ratio in a race. For example, if the winner outspent the second-highest vote-getter 5-to-1, this ratio would be shown as . Conversely, if the winner was outspent by the second-highest vote-getter 5-to-1, this ratio would be shown as .

All figures are based on expenditures made in the 2013-2014 and released by the FEC on 04/06/2015. Some members have not yet filed (see Still Waiting for Reports).

























Party-to-Candidate Giving (Top 20 Recipients)

It is well known that candidates for Congress and president raise money from individuals and political action committees (PACs), but they also turn to the political parties to fill their campaign coffers. Candidates for the House and president can raise up to $5,000 per election (primary and general) from each federally registered party committee. Senate candidates can raise up to $39,900 per campaign in 2008. This, of course, does not include money the parties can spend in support of a candidate, either in coordination with, or independent of, that candidate’s campaign.

Based on data released by the Federal Election Commission on 3/21/16.





Reelection Rates Over the Years

Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats—as this chart shows.


Senate races still overwhelmingly favor the incumbent, but not by as reliable a margin as House races. Big swings in the national mood can sometimes topple long time office-holders, as happened with the Reagan revolution in 1980. Even so, years like that are an exception.


Different Races, Different Costs

Getting re-elected is a lot cheaper than winning a seat in Congress in the first place. That fact is evident in these charts, which show averages for winners and losers in different types of races. In the House, open-seat races tend to cost far more than races where incumbents were re-elected. Most expensive of all were the races where two incumbents fought over the same seat — a once-in-a-decade phenomenon that occurs after reapportionment. In both the House and Senate, even those incumbents who lose at the polls typically spend more than their opponents.

Based on data released by the FEC on 04/06/2015.



Where the Money Came From

The secret to electoral success in Congress is not only having lots of money, but having lots of other people’s money. While a handful of millionaire candidates have financed their initial campaigns out of their own pockets, incumbents almost never use their own funds when seeking re-election. Click a slice of the pie or select a source of money from the color-coded key to learn more about its role.


Sources of Funds

Top Industries

Partisan Tilt:

Solidly Democrat/Liberal
Leans Democrat/Liberal
Solidly Republican/Conservative
Leans Republican/Conservative
On the Fence

Rank Industry Amount Total to PACs, Parties & Candidates** Dems Repubs
1 Securities/Invest $231,565,766 $80,355,097 34.9% 65.0%
2 Retired $177,742,531 $154,307,704 40.6% 59.2%
3 Real Estate $98,622,813 $61,402,321 39.5% 60.4%
4 Lawyers/Law Firms $84,729,635 $77,791,409 68.0% 31.9%
5 Misc Finance $55,558,461 $22,778,967 38.6% 61.3%
6 Oil & Gas $49,302,431 $25,631,442 9.5% 90.4%
7 Health Professionals $48,059,749 $40,537,415 42.5% 57.4%
8 Insurance $47,141,926 $29,400,614 32.7% 67.1%
9 Non-Profits $36,570,590 $9,882,352 69.6% 30.5%
10 Candidate Cmtes $34,969,585 $34,596,676 40.6% 54.5%
11 Leadership PACs $29,117,576 $29,105,576 40.2% 59.6%
12 Business Services $28,247,694 $23,522,456 55.9% 43.8%
13 TV/Movies/Music $27,329,225 $15,942,689 73.1% 26.8%
14 Electronics Mfg/Eqp $27,007,391 $15,777,491 56.2% 43.7%
15 Retail Sales $26,517,648 $13,809,886 31.8% 68.1%
16 Education $25,002,031 $23,667,233 77.8% 22.1%
17 Pharm/Health Prod $22,874,425 $18,165,486 38.9% 61.1%
18 Commercial Banks $21,380,155 $17,383,643 27.1% 72.8%
19 Automotive $21,063,308 $11,137,130 22.5% 77.5%
20 Lobbyists $20,784,844 $18,694,541 43.5% 56.4%

The Democratic and Republican percentages are calculated using money to candidates and party affiliated committees only. Percentages may not add up to 100% as money can be given to third party candidates or party committees.

METHODOLOGY: The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more to candidates and party committees, and from donors (including corporate and union treasuries) giving to super PACs and other outside groups, as reported to the Federal Election Commission.

**Does not include money to outside spending groups

All donations took place during the 2015-2016 and released by the Federal Election Commission on 4/16/16.

Totals by Sector

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% as money can be given to third party candidates and party committees.

METHODOLOGY: The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more to candidates and party committees, and from donors (including corporate and union treasuries) giving to super PACs and other outside groups, as reported to the Federal Election Commission.

All donations took place during the 2015-2016 election cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission on 4/16/16.


Business-Labor-Ideology Split in PAC & Individual Donations to Candidates, Parties, Super PACs and Outside Spending Groups

The broadest classification of political donors separates them into business, labor, or ideological interests. Whatever slice you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1.

Even among PACs – the favored means of delivering funds by labor unions – business has a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. In soft money, the ratio is nearly 17-to-1.

An important caveat must be added to these figures: “business” contributions from individuals are based on the donor’s occupation/employer. Since nearly everyone works for someone, and since union affiliation is not listed on FEC reports, totals for business are somewhat overstated, while labor is understated. Still, the base of large individual donors is predominantly made up of business executives and professionals. Contributions under $200 are not included in these numbers, as they are not itemized.

Based on data released by the FEC on April 16, 2016, and includes PAC and individual contributions to candidates and parties. Figures also include individual, corporate and union contributions to super PACs and outside spending groups. Contributions for which no category was identified are not included here.





Most Heavily Partisan Industries

The most partisan industries are determined by calculating the amount of money given to Democratic or Republican candidates and party committees compared to all the money given, including money going to outside spending groups and other PACs. The pie charts show the Democrat/Republican split; money not categorized as being connected to either party is not included in the charts.

The list below shows the industries and interest groups that gave the highest proportion of their dollars to one party or the other.

Percentages to Democrats and Republicans calculation based only on money to candidates and parties.




Most campaign contributions come from the major urban areas. Use this chart to find out where the big money is coming from by metro area. Totals include individual contributions of $200 or more to federal candidates, parties and PACs (including super PACs). Contributions from PACs are not included. (Move your cursor over the chart to see dollar amounts.)

Based on data released by the FEC on 04/21/2016.

Top Metro Areas




Top Zip Codes




2016 Campaign Contribution Limits

On Nov. 6, 2002, the day after the 2002 midterm elections, a new set of federal campaign finance laws went into effect. Known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), the law increased the contribution limits for individuals giving to federal candidates and political parties. Every two years, the Federal Election Commission updates certain contribution limits — such as the amount individuals may give to candidates and party committees — that are indexed to inflation.

Following the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, there is no longer an aggregate limit on how much an individual can give in total to all candidates, PACs and party committees combined.


* Indexed for inflation in odd numbered years

1 “PAC” here refers to a committee that makes contributions to other federal political committees. Independent-expenditure-only political committees (sometimes called “super PACs”) may accept unlimited contributions, including from corporations and labor organizations.

2 The limits in this column apply to a national party committee’s accounts for: (i) the presidential nominating convention; (ii) election recounts and contests and other legal proceedings; and (iii) national party headquarters buildings. A party’s national committee, Senate campaign committee and House campaign committee are each considered separate national party committees with separate limits. Only a national party committee, not the parties’ national congressional campaign committees, may have an account for the presidential nominating convention.

3 Additionally, a national party committee and its Senatorial campaign committee may contribute up to $46,800 combined per campaign to each Senate candidate.

McCutcheon vs FEC

About the Case

McCutcheon v. FEC is a federal lawsuit scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8, 2013. The case is about whether or not Congress may limit the total amount of donations an individual can make, at the federal level, in an election cycle.

What is the limit?

Many people are familiar with limits on how much individuals can give to a campaign; in the 2014 cycle, gifts are capped at $2,600 per candidate per race ($5,200 including both the primary and general election). In addition, they can give up to $5,000 per year to a PAC.

However, there is also an overall limit: No individual can give more than $123,200 in a two-year cycle. Of that amount, only $48,600 can be given to candidates and only $74,600 can be given to PACs. This means that a donor can only give the maximum allowable donation to nine candidates and seven PACs in the 2014 election cycle.

Along with the limits on how much can be given to candidates, committees and parties, the overall cap is increased every election cycle.

First established in the 1970s, the limits on how much an individual can give to a candidate or committee were designed to prevent a handful of individuals from having undue influence over a candidate by being his or her dominant source of funding. However, to make the limits on how much an individual can give to candidates and committees effective, Congress also had to establish an overall cap.

Didn’t Citizens United allow unlimited donations?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC lifted limits on how much money can be given and spent by outside spending groups; many of these are super PACs and politically active nonprofits. Although an outside group may favor a particular candidate, it does not give directly to the candidate and is not allowed to spend the money in coordination with the campaign.

The Supreme Court did not touch the limits on donations to candidates or committees in Citizens United.

Who is McCutcheon?

The plaintiff challenging the limits, Shaun McCutcheon, is an Alabama businessman and member of the Republican National Committee.

What is the court trying to decide in McCutcheon?

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether those overall limits are unconstitutional.

In 2012, McCutcheon gave donations to 15 different federal candidates. He has said that he wanted to give more money to even more candidates, but the limits prevented him from doing so. Citing the argument successfully made in the Citizens United decision that political contributions are a type of expression that should fall under the First Amendment’s protection, McCutcheon is claiming that the overall cap infringes on his right to freedom of speech.

Opponents are arguing that without the overall limit, any limits are essentially useless. Even if an individual may only give $5,200 to a candidate in an election cycle, if the donor is allowed to give an unlimited amount to other committees — such as the candidate’s leadership PAC, joint fundraising ventures or other organizations affiliated with the candidate — the money can still flow directly to the candidate, who will be aware of the source of the funds. This would allow wealthy individuals to dominate candidate fundraising and possibly give them undue influence.

How many people are actually affected by these limits?

While it’s impossible to say how many people would like to donate an unlimited amount of money but don’t because the limits exist, we do know that only a very small handful of people even come close to reaching those limits.

Few people make substantial political contributions at all. Out of an estimated 310 million Americans, we estimate that just 0.4 percent make a political contribution of $200 or more (large enough to be individually tracked in FEC data). And even among those who give more than that, only about 0.1 percent give $2,500 or more.

The number of donors who max out on the overall cap for donations is much smaller. According to CRP data, only 591 donors in the entire country – or 0.0000019 percent of the population — gave the maximum of $46,200 to federal candidates in 2012, accounting for only $34.1 million of the estimated $3.1 billion raised by federal candidates in the cycle.

All 2012 cycle figures are based on data released by the FEC on November, 14, 2013.


McCutcheon v FEC refers to a 2012 challenge by Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to the biennial limit on overall individual contributions to federal political committees, with plaintiffs charging that the limit violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the Fall of 2013.

During the 2012 Election Cycle, the aggregate biennial limit for an individual was $117,000. (See contribution limits.) Individual donors could give no more than $70,800 in a cycle to all PACs and party committees. In addition, individuals could give no more than $46,200 total to federal candidates during the 2012 election cycle. To get a sense of the number of individuals who might take advantage of an increase in or elimination of the aggregate contribution limit, CRP examined how many individual donors gave the legal maximum to Democratic and Republican party committees, as well as to candidates. We also looked at how many individuals gave $70,800 or more to the Obama and Romney Victory Funds. To give a sense of the potential of large donors, we are also showing the number of soft money donors giving $100,000 or more in the 2000 cycle to the Democratic and Republican parties as well as just the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee.




McCutcheon’s Multiplying Effect: Why An Overall Limit Matters

By Bob Biersack / 05.17.2016

On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a case challenging the overall contribution limits for individual donors that were first enacted in the mid-1970’s.


The case won’t directly impact caps on contributions to  specific candidates, party committees and PACs, which Congress put in place in order to ensure that a few people didn’t have undue influence on elected officials by being their dominant source of campaign funds.

But Congress also imposed overall limits on how much one person could give, in total, to all campaigns, PACs and parties during a single two-year election cycle; that’s the issue before the Court. Lawmakers recognized that without some global contribution boundaries, it would be possible for one or a few people to support lots of PACs or party committees that in turn would support one or a few campaigns. The theory was that the candidate would know the original source of all the funneled money and might feel obliged to reward that sugar daddy with official acts.

The limits are indexed for inflation; for the 2013-2014 election cycle, anyone can give a total of up to $123,200, with no more than $48,600 given to candidate committees and no more than $74,600 given to PACs and parties.

Now Shaun McCutcheon, a frequent contributor to Republicans and conservative causes, along with the Republican National Committee are trying to get the aggregate limits thrown out. They argue that the Court’s logic in Citizens United v. FEC — which said the bar on independent corporate election spending was a violation of First Amendment speech and association rights — should apply here, too. Restricting someone’s ability to support as many candidates or committees as he or she chooses, they argue, is no different than limiting the ability to spend money independently of a candidate or party.

What if the Court agrees? What would be the consequences if people could give the maximum contribution to as many candidates, parties and PACs as they wished?

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that 1.2 million people gave contributions of $200 or more to presidential or congressional candidates during the 2012 election cycle. That’s a tiny fraction — one-half of 1 percent — of the total adult population of the U.S.  These donors gave a total of $2.8 billion to federal candidates, party committees and leadership PACs; that’s about 64 percent of all of the funds raised by these organizations.

So in 2012 the total number of people who made any kind of measurable contribution in the federal system is roughly the population of metropolitan Richmond, Va. Even with the overall limits in place, a very small number of people were responsible for a large percentage of the overall financing of last year’s elections.

And these figures don’t include the ‘outside money’ that was such an important new feature in 2012 as a result of Citizens United and other court decisions. That’s a world with no limits at all, and not surprisingly it was even more skewed toward a small number of very big donors: Just 216 people gave about 68 percent of all the money that super PACs received. The limits don’t apply because these groups aren’t giving money to candidates or parties; they’re spending money themselves without coordinating with candidates.

The real focus of attention in this case is the (very small) group of people who were giving at or near the overall limit being challenged by McCutcheon.  We found 646 people in the 2012 election cycle who hit the maximum overall donation limit of $117,000. This tiny group was able to give a total of about $93.4 million directly to candidates and committees active in federal campaigns.

The current overall contribution limit doesn’t appear to be much of a barrier for the vast majority of donors, or there would be many more people bumping up against it.

If the overall limits went by the wayside, would the specific limits on contributions that are not being challenged in this case ($2,600 per election per candidate from an individual, etc.) be enough to hold down the potential for corrupting influence on elected officials?  Critics of McCutcheon’s position note that even with the aggregate limits in place, there’s been a steady growth in the use of both leadership PACs and joint fundraising committees in recent years, allowing big donors to maximize their interaction with specific elected officials who covet their resources.

Leadership PACs, which are created by members of Congress, give donors to party leaders and committee chairs another way to solidify those relationships. Contributors can give up to $5,000 per year to these committees on top of the $2,600 per election they can give directly to a member’s campaign. So these supporters can effectively double their financial ties to important members. Since 2002 the number of leadership PACs giving to other candidates has doubled from 226 in 2002 to 456 in 2012. Their contributions have risen from $25 million to more than $46 million during the same period.

Joint fundraising efforts allow candidates and parties to band together to share the proceeds of big events that draw wealthy donors. Important members of Congress will often team with national and state party committees for dinners and other events that allow donors intimate access to these leaders while effectively writing one big check to the joint committee. The money is divided among the candidates and parties involved to comply with the specific limits on each of the participants.

It’s a win-win situation for donors, who can make a big impression on elected officials, and parties, which can move lots of resources to the races that are their priorities — not to mention the candidates themselves.

All that’s keeping the number of zeros on these checks from running off the page are the overall contribution limits. Once a donor gets close to the $74,600 cap on contributions to all PACs and parties, or the $48,600 limit to all campaigns, tools like the joint fundraising committee are no longer able to pull more from the donor’s account.

Without those limits, tens of thousands could become hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands could turn into millions. Each individual could give at least $10,000 per year to party committees in every state, $32,400 per year to each national party committee (there are three of these for each party), and $5,000 per year to every PAC.

One of the first things that would surely happen without overall limits would be a wave of newly created PACs focused on specific candidate’s campaigns, which would allow donors to give $5,000 to any number of committees that would then give the money directly to the candidates.


McCutcheon’s Multiplying Effect: Under current campaign finance law which limits not only how much an individual may give to a campaign or committee but how much can be given overall, there are only so many PACs a donor can give to every election. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides that an individual’s overall donations may not be capped, it won’t change how much a donor can give to a PAC, but it would allow donors to give to an unlimited number of PACs. This may cause the number of PACs to explode as each new PAC becomes an opportunity to collect more checks from donors. / Graphic by Rivera
Whether the overall limits are a good thing or not — and there are arguments on both sides — it’s clear that, if McCutcheon wins, people with lots of cash to invest in politicians would have a number of opportunities to direct money to a candidate. So much for $2,600 per election.

Individuals (as well as corporations and other entities, since the Citizens United decision in 2010) may currently give unlimited sums to outside groups that can spend without restriction in support of (or against) a candidate. Why isn’t it logical, then, to remove the cap on overall direct contributions to candidates and committees, as McCutcheon argues? Maybe it is, but if so, one of the basic premises of the Court’s first big campaign finance case would have to be rethought: the notion that direct contributions can lead to corruption, or at least its appearance. That’s why the Court in that 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, upheld caps on per-candidate and per-committee contributions.

Without an overall limit, though, those caps would lose much of their force.

Images: Supreme Court image via Flickr user Mark Fischer.