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Among donors, a few ZIP codes put extra zip in campaign coffers

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

For Democrats, much of the money to fund the big-ticket national races this year is coming from donors in Hollywood and Chicago, while Republicans are relying — to a lesser extent — on cash from supporters in greater Houston and Fairfield, Conn., a geographical analysis of campaign contributions shows.

Los Angeles' 3 million households, led by large donations from those in the entertainment industry to Democrats, have given nearly $50 million to the national parties and presidential campaigns this election cycle, more than in any other county in the country. President Obama has found gold in supporters like DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg and actor George Clooney, who have been enlisted to gather donations from well-off colleagues.

And the political machine President Obama left behind in his hometown of Chicago is still exceptionally active, with its 2 million households putting up $32 million, disproportionately to Democrats.

Of that total, $13 million came from 6,000 donations to the Obama Victory Fund, a special fund for wealthy donors that can accept $75,000 per person — in large part because nearly a quarter of the 85 "bundlers" who have raised at least $500,000 apiece for the president's re-election live there.

Both Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have been repeatedly diverted from the campaign trail to heap attention on donors at fundraising events in so-called "ATM counties."

"The candidates spent a lot of time raising money in these communities, even though the places where they need to get votes are on the other side of the country," said Bill Allison, an expert on money in politics at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

In a distant third place among the nation's counties is Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston and whose 1.5 million households have given $23 million. Nearly $5 million from wealthy donors went to Mitt Romney's wealthy-donor fund, a figure matched by smaller donations to the general campaign.

When Mr. Romney attended a fundraiser at the Houstonian Hotel in August, the Republican National Committee collected more than $700,000, with the donor list a who's who of oil executives, including Terry Swift of Swift Energy and John Schiller of Energy XXI, each of whom gave $30,800.

Fairfield County, Conn., the suburban New York community sometimes called the "gold coast," ranks 46th among the nation's counties by household population, at 335,000, yet it comes in fourth in money given to political parties. Fairfield households gave $20 million, an average of $60 each. Like Harris County, fully three out of every four Fairfield County dollars went to Republicans.

But hiding among major metropolitan areas are also locales whose residents have funded politics at a rate that far exceeds their numbers, and while such metropolises often lean Democratic, small, wealthy enclaves are more likely to be filled with staunch Republicans.

Some 800 contributions from the 9,000 households of tiny Teton, Wyo., the site of the Jackson Hole ski slopes, made for $1.7 million in contributions from that county, an average of nearly $200 per family — greater sums than the amounts given by San Bernardino, Calif.'s, 600,000 families and Prince George's 300,000 in Maryland.

Pitken County, Colo., home of wealthy Aspen, gave $1.1 million — more than major cities such as El Paso, Texas — for an average of nearly $140 per household, and two-thirds went to Republicans.

The Washington Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records counted only people who had given $200 or more, the threshold for disclosure, so these totals reflect largely the influence of wealthy donors, who favor giving to national party organizations such as the Democratic National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee because they can accept checks of $30,000. Contributions directly to candidates are capped by law at $5,000.

Despite the emphasis on small, "grass-roots" donors, a point of pride for the Obama campaign, these larger contributions are the donations that keep politicians and campaigns afloat. Residents of Union, Ark., for example, made only 189 contributions, amounting to slightly more than 1 percent of the city's 17,000 families — yet the total amount given was $650,000, for an average of $3,500 per check.

"We've heard a lot about super PACs, but for politicians, the money closer to home, that they control directly or can get surrogates at the parties to control, is where the action is," Mr. Allison said.

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