NY Money Fuels Hottest Congressional Races

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was in New York again last month for a series of fundraisers and President Barack Obama will be here again next week to collect more checks.

Candidates lower down on the ballot are also returning to New York for big money. Already this campaign cycle, New Yorkers have given $124 million to candidates and PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For Congressional candidates, New York is again proving an invaluable stop for candidates on both side of the aisle. As in 2008, New York in 2012 ranks as the second top backer of Democrats and the fifth-top source of funds for federal Republican candidates. 

One group that has already fared better among New York donors this year are House Republican leaders, specifically John Boehner and Eric Cantor. With the majority in hand, Cantor has already raised more than double what he did in all of 2008 cycle, and John Boehner tops the list of out-of-state House candidates after not breaking the top 20 in 2008. 

Not surprisingly, New Yorkers export their money to back Democratic candidates more than Republicans. In 2012, they’ve already given nearly twice as much to Democrats running for federal office as Republicans, and in 2008, Democrats received three times as much as Republicans. (see the top 20 recipients of New York money in Congressional races in 2012 and 2008 here)

And New York, home of the country’s money and media establishment, generally likes incumbents. But they also turn out in force in hotly contested Congressional races when there are big names in play. In 2012, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have both scooped up lots of New York money. New Yorkers are also coming down on both sides in the Ohio Senate face-off of incumbent Democrat Sherrod Browne and Republican challenger Josh Mandel.  

Four years ago, in the shadow of the Obama campaign, New York money showed up big on both sides of key Senate contests in Minnesota, New Hampshire and the swing state of North Carolina. And in all three of those races, it was a Democrat challenging a Republican incumbent, the Democrats raised slightly more than his or her New York opponent here, and the Republican lost.

In Indiana, Tea Party Beats New York Money

New York money also couldn't save six-term Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, who lost the Republican primary Tuesday against conservative challenger Richard Mourdock in Indiana, despite his major money advantage, including big backing from New Yorkers.

New Yorkers contributed more than $200,000 to Lugar’s primary contest – more than any other state next to Indiana, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lugar raised nearly as much money from out-of-state as in-state, while Mourdock raised 75 percent of his money from within Indiana. Still, Lugar's New York receipts did not crack the top 20 for out-of-state Senate candidates this year.

The Democrat who will face Mourdock, Rep. Joe Donnelly, has also raised nearly half his money from out of state – with more than $50,000 coming in from New Yorkers. 

Lugar’s New York backers include some, like Lugar, who have shown a willingness to cross party lines. Take Husam Ahmad, the chairman of Haks Engineers in New York, who’s given more than $77,000 since 1997. He backed George W. Bush in 1999, Barack Obama in 2008, Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner in 2010, and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2011.

Dueling New York Money in Massachusetts

New York money is also a major factor in Massachusetts, where New York donors are coming down heavy on both sides of the battle. Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren are both in New York’s top five out-of-state Senate candidates recipients. 

Brown has raised more money in New York City than any other city including Boston according to an analysis by The Boston Globe. In fact, Brown's New York haul ranks second among out-of-state Senate candidates with $630,549 raised, behind only New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez. Warren ranks fifth, having raised $575,010 so far, according to Center for Responsive Politics numbers.

And while Warren has raised more money from outside Massachusetts than within it, Sen. Brown has brought in more than double Warren’s out-of-state total, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But the New York campaign cash comes with a cost. Both candidates have faced criticism for their fundraising here. The state Democratic chairman in Massachusetts this week demanded this week that Brown "come clean" with the names of his New York Finance Committee hosting a fundraiser on Saturday. And last month, the Massachusetts Republican Party director blasted Warren for attending a New York fundraiser hosted by performer and activist Harry Belafonte, whose views the GOP chief called "extreme and repugnant."

Sidelined in North Carolina Gay Marriage Vote

One notable absence of New York money was in North Carolina election on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Even after the major political victory here for a gay marriage law, New Yorkers gave just over $26,000 to Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families, less than residents of California and Washington, D.C., according to filings with the North Carolina board of elections. The amendment to ban same-sex marriage passed on Tuesday with a 20-point margin. 

One New Yorker in particular who was criticized for not doing more was North Carolina native Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who became the publisher of The New Republic earlier this year. Hughes wrote an open letter to legislators against putting the amendment on the ballot, but The Washington Blade noted last week that his name was missing from campaign finance filings to the coalition. Hughes declined to comment to WNYC, but he told The Blade that the lopsided polls discouraged him from contributing to the ballot campaign, but he noted his other contributions to North Carolina groups supporting same-sex marriage. “I have opposed this amendment from the start,” Hughes said in a statement, adding, “my fiancé Sean and I have contributed our time and resources to oppose this discriminatory amendment, and we hope it is defeated next week.”

Coalition spokesman Jeremy Kennedy said Hughes’ reluctance was consistent with the response of other major backers. “Chris was in the same camp of a large portion of the national funders here,” Kennedy said just after voting had started on Tuesday. “Because we were a state in the South there were a lot of people that had written us off.”

But other prominent New Yorkers did chip in. Fashion designer Michael Kors gave $1,000, and actor and North Carolina native Zach Galifianakis gave $3,000 – listing an address in Jericho on Long Island and an occupation of “clown.”

One other New Yorker of note added his voice to the debate: former President Bill Clinton recorded a robocall for the coalition, telling North Carolinians that the amendment against gay marriage would be bad for business.