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Most campaign contributions come from outside candidates' districts

Data: Individual contributions from Federal Election Commission, U.S. ZIP Code Tabulation Area coordinates from U.S. Census Bureau. See below for complete methodology. Note: Map includes all candidates who received at least 500 contributions during the 2017-18 election cycle, as of Aug. 27, 2018. This includes some candidates who are not running for re-election but whose campaign committees have received contributions. Graphic: Harry Stevens and Lazaro Gamio/Axios

More than two thirds of individual contributions to 2018 House candidates came from donors outside of the candidates' districts, and Democrats are out-raising Republicans, according to an Axios analysis of Federal Elections Commission data.

Why it matters: Maybe all politics is national, not local. Americans on both sides of the aisle know that money influences politics. Yet donating to a candidate you can't vote for doesn't always result in a win.

Just look at Jon Ossoff, who lost the Georgia special election last year despite raising nearly $20 million more than his challenger Karen Handel.

"You can’t win without money, but you can lose with the most money."
— Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics

By the numbers:

  • Of the total amount of money given to House candidates — $508,578,037 — 73% came from outside the district.
  • And of the total number of contributions — 866,097 — 69% came from outside the district.
  • Most contributions are still coming from within the state — just not from within the district.

Our other findings:

Democrats are raising more from outside their districts this cycle than Republicans. "We've seen a massive wave of energy, particularly in civic participation" and donating money to candidates online, said Stephen Spaulding, chief of strategy and external affairs for Common Cause, a nonpartisan government reform group.

  • More than 70% of contributions to Democratic candidates came from outside the candidate's district, compared to about 63% of contributions to Republican candidates.

Incumbents are better at fundraising outside their districts. About 71% of incumbents' donations come from non-constituents, compared to 65% of challengers.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is the least local candidate among candidates who received at least 1,000 contributions — even though he's not running for re-election. Of the 10,901 contributions, 99.5% came from outside Wisconsin's 1st district, and 99.9% of the $50,566,233 he raised came from outside his district.

  • But that money doesn't go to his re-election campaign. Part of it goes directly to the National Republican Congressional Committee and another portion goes to his leadership PAC, which both support Republican members and candidates, according to Jeremy Adler, communications director for Team Ryan, the joint fundraising group.
  • The most local candidate award goes to South Dakota's Dusty Johnson. He received just 7% of his contributions from contributors outside his district (which is the entirety of South Dakota).

The bottom line: Candidates have to build a brand that transcends their district if they want to run a competitive campaign and thwart outside groups' spending against them.

Our methodology: Individual campaign contributions for 2017-18 were downloaded from the Federal Elections Commission and filtered to only include contributions to House candidates. They were geocoded using a combination of ZIP Code Tabulation Area coordinates from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 Gazetteer Files, a lookup table from UDSMapper, and OpenStreetMap's geocoding API, Nominatim.

About 0.2% of the contributions could not be geocoded because they lacked valid location information and were removed from the analysis.

Correction: A previous version of this story reflected an error in the FEC database which placed Susan Wild in the wrong congressional district. She is a candidate in district 7, not district 15. A previous version of this story also erroneously stated Dean Phillips's party affiliation. He is a running as a Democrat, not an Independent.

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