Congressional Candidates Ignore Everyday Americans – Legislative Solution Game Changer for California Members

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  • Leila Pedersen

LOS ANGELES – Analysis of campaign finance data for nine diverse* members of Congress by the non-partisan government watchdog organization California Common Cause found that all of them raised the vast majority of funds from large donors and PACs from outside their districts.

“Is it any wonder that ordinary voters feel that members of Congress listen to powerful interests more than to their constituents when in fact constituents are providing only a token amount of their campaign funds?” asked Kathay Feng, executive director of the group.  “If we want to change the way Congress works we have to change the way that they raise money. Passing the Government By the People Act would reduce the price we all pay for big money’s powerful influence and encourage candidates to campaign in their own backyards,” she added.

Among the group’s findings:

•    Of the nine members of Congress, Darrell Issa raised the most funds from small donors.  He took in $772,562 in donations under $200, or 25% of his total funds.  None of the other 8 members raised more than 5% of their total funds from donors giving under $200.
•    Seven of the nine members raised 20% or less of their funds from within their congressional district:  Denham (16%), Costa (20%), McCarthy (17%), McKeon (5%), McLeod (9%), Bass (19%), Issa (16%). Only two members raised more than 40% of funds from within their districts: Dana Rohrabacher (44%) and David Valadao (40%). 
•    Six of the nine members had real estate interests among their top five industries for support.  Federal candidates receive more campaign funds from the Finance/Insurance/Real Estate sector than any other industry group. When the House considered a bill written by Citigroup lobbyists to weaken banking regulations, co-sponsors of the bill received 16 times the funds from Citigroup as other members. The price we paid for big money contributions from Wall Street was weakened banking rules which led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Homeowners saw property values plummet by $1.2 trillion and more than 500,000 fewer jobs were created. California financial institutions were responsible for 56% of the subprime lending, which devastated our housing market. By the end of 2007, a full 25% of foreclosures in American were in California.
•    Three of the nine members had securities and investment firms among their top five industries that supported them.  In the 2012 election cycle, Wall Street institutions spent more than $108 million to influence congressional elections – nearly double what they’d spent in 2010 prior to the Citizens United ruling. Senators who voted against a provision to allow people to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates received 58% more money from financial institutions than Senators who voted for it.  The $1.2 trillion in student debt carried by college graduates prevents them from starting businesses, buying homes, and contributing to a growing economy.
•    There is a stark contrast in the two retiring members studied.  Gloria Negrette Mcleod raised only $140,632 through June 30th of her final election cycle in Congress after winning election in 2012 spending only $302,549 to win her seat in 2012.  She is a rare example that demonstrates it does not always require big money to be elected to Congress.  Buck McKeon will raise more money this cycle than he did in his first four election campaigns, including $99,100 from defense contractors, $74,100 from defense related aerospace, and $53,500 from defense related electronic firms.  McKeon serves as the chair of the House Armed Services Committee.  He had raised only $532 in contributions of under $200 as of June 30th in this cycle.
•    Two members in contested races received significant support from other members of Congress through leadership PACs and candidate committees – funds unlikely to represent their constituents.   Jeff Denham received $161,445 from leadership PACs (his second highest source of funds) and David Valadeo received $220,127 from leadership PACs (his second highest source of funds) as well as $46,000 from other members of Congress (his fifth highest source of funds.)

California Common Cause has called upon these nine members of Congress to join 29 other members from California in co-sponsoring H.R. 20, the Government By the People Act.  That bill would encourage small donors to contribute to candidates by using a tax credit incentive system, and encourage candidates to rely heavily upon small donors for their campaigns by providing federal matching funds at ratios of at least six-to-one.  Congresswoman McLeod has agreed to co-sponsor the bill.

The group plans to update its research when new data becomes available after October 15.

*Congressmembers studied were Jeff Denham (R-CD 10), Jim Costa (D CD 16), David Valedao (R-CD 21), Kevin McCarthy (R-23), Gloria Negrette Mcleod (D-CD 35), Karen Bass (D-CD 37), Dana Rohrabacher (R- CD 48), and Darrell Issa (R- CD 49).  Data is from