Top ‘08 political donors tighter in 2010

Presidential off-year cited

Yalcin Ayasli isn’t a name familiar to most Americans, but in political fundraising circles, he’s known as a heavy hitter.

The scientist and founder of the Massachusetts-based Hittite Microwave Corp. gave more money directly to federal politicians and parties than any other donor during the 2008 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

But this year, he doesn’t crack the top 10.

In fact, a review of campaign records shows that more than half of those ranked among the top 100 “hard money” political givers for 2008 don’t appear on that exclusive list in 2010 — what has been billed as the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history.

Ray Palmer Oden Jr. was ranked at No. 10 on the list in 2008, but he’s not among the top 100 so far this year. Mr. Oden, a Republican who lives in Shreveport, La., said he has never seen such a list, but he doesn’t dispute that he gets plenty of opportunities to give to politicians.

“Every time the phone rings, it’s somebody else wanting money,” he joked, adding that when it comes to national political races, he likes to do his research first. He said he’s not sure whether he will give as much this election cycle as in 2008: “We give as our income and our age allow us to,” said Mr. Oden, 85.

Overall, 33 Democrats who were ranked among the top 100 political givers in 2008 have dropped off the list in the 2010 election cycle, compared with 22 Republicans. The top 100 list had more Democrats than Republicans in 2008.

Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said it’s common for some of the faces among big political donors to change over election cycles. He said several factors could help explain why some donors who gave a lot in 2008 have cut back for the midterm campaign season.

“President Obama was a major driver of campaign donations in 2008, and he is not on the scene this year in a way that he was then,” Mr. Levinthal said, noting that “the game has changed” with the formation of the “tea party” movement.

“The tea party didn’t exist in 2008,” he said. “That’s not something that could have been predicted two years ago.”

Mr. Ayasli, who could not be reached for comment, is ranked No. 12 among the top 100 donors for the 2010 election cycle.

The No. 2-ranked donor two years ago — Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn — barely made the top 100 list this year. The Hollywood producer and his wife gave $352,402 in 2008, while their $161,900 donations put the couple at No. 99 for the 2010 election cycle.

Other prominent contributors in 2008 have dropped off the list entirely this year. They include Alan D. Solomont, ambassador to Spain, who along with his wife, Judith, gave $228,902 two years ago and were ranked No. 35 among all donors.

Candice Nelson, head of the department of government at American University’s School of Public Affairs, said there could be an “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats.

“Democratic contributors were more excited about the election in 2008; Republicans are more excited this year,” she said.

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