- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2010

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.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Republicans running for open Senate seats, on average, raised more than twice as much money compared with their Democratic opponents.

In the 15 races for open seats, Republicans reported raising an average of $6.2 million, while Democrats raised $3 million. The Republicans also reported spending $4.4 million, compared with $2.1 million by Democrats.

For House candidates in 41 races in which the incumbent is not running, Republicans have raised about 27 percent more compared with Democrats, according to the center.

Republican House candidates seeking vacated seats have raised, on average, $682,000, with Democrats raising $535,900. But Democrats reported slightly more cash on hand, $263,500 versus $250,700, according to the center.

The analysis includes only “hard money” contributions that donors gave directly to candidates, not the millions of dollars given to outside interest groups trying to influence election outcomes.

Led by organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Future Fund, outside groups have spent more than $18 million on political campaign ads in 2010, a 31 percent increase compared with the last midterm election in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

The changing faces of hard-money donors don’t come as a surprise to Anthony Corrado, a national campaign finance analyst and professor at Colby College in Maine. He said it’s common for donors to be active during presidential campaigns but curtail their political spending during midterm election cycles.

“There are just some people who play in the presidential years and who aren’t as concerned about the presidential elections, and that may be higher this year because some of the dissatisfaction with Washington in general,” he said.

Ken Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the tough economy also could be a factor.

“The people who are worth tens of millions of dollars have the discretionary income to make these contributions, no matter what,” he said. “But there are going to be others who can’t [in 2010].”

Still, some big donors from 2008 have continued doling out contributions to politicians and their causes in 2010.

Husband-and-wife lobbyists and Democratic fundraisers Tony and Heather Podesta gave $222,170 during 2008, ranking them No. 45 among hard-money contributors. Through July 13 this year, they’ve given approximately $200,000 during the midterm election cycle.

Republican donors Trammell and Margaret Crow, who gave $302,400 in 2008, have donated $231,000 so far in 2010, putting them in the top 15 hard-money donors for both election cycles.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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