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Wealthy donors fuel GOP cash edge in midterms home stretch

Wealthy donors, led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, are helping fuel a cash advantage for Republicans in ...

Posted: Oct. 23, 2018 1:44 AM
Updated: Oct. 23, 2018 1:44 AM

Wealthy donors, led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, are helping fuel a cash advantage for Republicans in the homestretch to next month's midterm elections.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated a staggering $112 million through the end of September to super PACs focused on federal races, cementing the family's position as the Republican Party's largest benefactors.

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The couple's last-minute contributions in September alone sent a combined $45 million into the two leading political action committees working to keep Congress in Republican hands.

The Adelsons' $25 million contribution to one of the groups -- the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- accounted for two-thirds of the money Senate Leadership raised last month. The McConnell-linked PAC started October with $46.8 million available to spend in the final stretch to election day, nearly $8 million more than its rival Democratic group.

The actions by Republican mega-donors come as energized liberal donors flood the campaign accounts of individual Democratic candidates. Both parties are waging an intense battle for the House, where Democrats need to flip just 23 seats to seize the chamber.

A CNN analysis of candidate fundraising in the July-to-September quarter found Democratic House candidates sweeping past their Republican rivals in 57 of 61 competitive House races. Together, Democrats in these close races -- rated by CNN as either tossups or leaning Democratic or Republican -- raised $126.8 million during the three-month period, nearly three times the $44.7 million raised by GOP candidates in these contests.

"Republican donors are trying to level the playing field against an avalanche of special interest cash" benefiting the left, Republican strategist Brian Baker said of GOP contributor activity. Using a theme common among Republicans and President Donald Trump, Baker characterized Democratic activists as a "mob" aimed at "stopping all the progress that has been made in the last two years" under Trump's watch.

Another potential firewall for vulnerable Republicans: the cash stockpiled by party committees. The three main GOP campaign committees, the Republican National Committee and its House and Senate campaign arms, entered October and the final sprint to the election with nearly $111 million stashed in their bank accounts.

Democratic party committees had far less cash on hand: $63.4 million.

In all, the six Republican and Democratic party committees focused on federal races have collected nearly $1 billion since the start of the election cycle and have spent nearly as much -- $900 million.

Wealthy Democrats also have opened up their wallets. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential 2020 White House contender who recently rejoined the party, gave $5 million to his own super PAC last month, new filings show. He's already committed to spending $100 million to help Democrats secure congressional majorities.

Other wealthy Democrats also are helping underwrite the party's super PACs. Hedge funder James Simons, for instance, gave a combined $4.7 million to the Democratic-aligned super PACs focused on Congress, the House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, also known at SMP.

No donors, however, have come close to the Adelsons in this election cycle.

The frenzied fundraising pace set by parties, super PACs and candidates this year is expected to push midterm spending past $5 billion, making it the most expensive congressional election in US history, according to a projection by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.

Only two previous congressional elections -- those in 2016 and 2010 -- surpassed the $4 billion mark when the figures were adjusted for inflation, the group found.

"There's an intensity to these midterm elections that has been boiling since Election Day 2016," the Center for Responsive Politics' Sheila Krumholz said, pointing to the marches and protests from liberal groups since Trump's inauguration.

But the small-donor enthusiasm feeding the campaign accounts of Democrats "may not matter as much" on Election Day if one or two large Republican donors can fill the financial gap, she said.

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