5 takeaways from the flood of money in the Georgia Senate runoffs

Record-breaking race has attracted some notable contributors

Georgia Democratic Senate hopefuls Raphael Warnock, right, and Jon Ossoff have shattered fundraising records.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Georgia Democratic Senate hopefuls Raphael Warnock, right, and Jon Ossoff have shattered fundraising records. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 4, 2021 at 6:00am

Donors are shoveling money into the Georgia Senate races as the chamber’s majority hangs in the balance.

The runoff campaigns, pitting Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock against Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, already rank among the most expensive Senate races in history.

New election filings show that by the middle of December, the four candidates raised almost $447 million combined for the full election cycle. Back in October, South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison disclosed raising a record-shattering $58 million over a three-month period ending Sept. 30 for his ultimately unsuccessful Senate campaign.

Warnock and Ossoff each buried that record, raising $103.4 million and $106.8 million, respectively — during a two-month period ending Dec. 16. And money kept coming in after that, and will likely continue to do so up until voting in Georgia ends Tuesday. 

The candidates have tapped donors from different parts of the political spectrum, with the Democrats pulling in massive amounts from people across the country, while the Republicans, who raised less but also far surpassed Harrison’s previous record, leaned more on PACs and other committee transfers. 

Here are five things that stand out in their fundraising, based on analyses of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and tallies compiled on Political MoneyLine.

1) Individual donors favor Democrats

All four candidates’ most recent filings, covering Oct. 15 through Dec. 16, show massive influxes of cash in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election and afterward, when it became clear both races required runoffs with no one getting more than 50 percent of the Election Day vote. With the GOP holding 50-48 edge in the Senate, not counting the Georgia seats, Democrats could take control if they win both runoffs because Kamala Harris as vice president would break tied votes.

Democrats have been able to far outraise their Republican opponents from individual donors.

FEC rules require candidates to itemize contributions from donors who contribute more than $200 in aggregate. They also must disclose the total amount received from contributors giving less than that amount, so-called small donors or the political grassroots.

Ossoff’s latest filing shows he pulled in $100 million in individual contributions, roughly half from small donors and half from those giving larger amounts. 

Warnock’s most recent filing tells a similar story, with about $46.6 million in amounts of more than $200 and and $50.5 million from donors giving smaller amounts.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans’ reports show bigger donors far outpacing those giving smaller amounts. Perdue reported raising $36.3 million from large-dollar donors and $17.4 million from small donors. Loeffler reported $32.7 million in large-dollar donations over the same period, and $19.1 million in small-dollar ones.

2) Deluge started after Nov. 3

In the days following the Nov. 3 election, funds began pouring into the Georgia races. While campaign filings only have to provide details on donors giving more than $200, the data shows that between Nov. 6 and Nov. 17, Perdue’s campaign was able to add $15.1 million and Loeffler raised $13.3 million, according to Political MoneyLine. 

One possible reason: Donors who had already given the legal maximum through Nov. 3 could give again for the runoff, under FEC rules.

But Democrats handily exceeded their GOP opponent’s tallies.  Warnock raised $21.8 million from Nov. 6-17, while Ossoff pulled in $22.4 million over the same period.

3) This is a national race

All candidates raised money from donors across the country, but large-dollar donations from people outside Georgia flowed especially to Democrats. There’s no way to know if the same pattern played out with donors giving smaller amounts, since their names and addresses aren’t disclosed.

Warnock’s latest filing shows $11.7 million came in from California donors alone between Oct. 15 and Dec. 16, and $4.7 million were from New Yorkers. Georgians gave his campaign $2.6 million.

Ossoff reported $13.1 million in contributions from Californians, $5.2 million from New Yorkers and a combined  $5.7 million from Massachusetts and Washington state residents. Georgians gave his campaign $2.3 million.

4) PACs favor GOP

Perdue and Loeffler leaned more on political action committees than their Democratic opponents, who have pledged not to accept contributions from PACs tied to corporations.

Loeffler’s latest filing for the Oct. 15 to Dec. 16 period shows she received $1.4 million from PACs, bring her total for the election cycle to nearly $2.3 million. Perdue disclosed more than $2 million in his most recent report, bringing his total for the election cycle to nearly $5.5 million.

While not taking corporate PAC money, the Democrats are taking money from PACs formed by issue groups and labor unions. Ossoff collected $443,000 over the two-month period covered by his most recent report, and $765,000 for the election cycle. Warnock raised $365,000, per his latest report, and $715,000 for the cycle overall.

Loeffler, one of the richest members of Congress, was appointed to fill the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he resigned for health reasons at the end of 2019. She loaned her campaign $23 million in the early days of her campaign, which amounts to about 25 percent of her total fundraising for the cycle. Ossoff has loaned his campaign $450,000. 

Though Democrats have raised more money, Republican-aligned outside groups have vastly outspent Democratic ones. From Nov. 3 through Dec. 22, spending by groups trying to help Perdue and Loeffler spent $133 million, while those backing Ossoff and Warnock have spent $63 million, a CQ Roll Call analysis of disclosures with the FEC found.

5) Celebrities like Democrats

“How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radnor, as well as actors Patricia Arquette and Joaquin Phoenix, donated to both Democratic challengers as they headed to the runoffs.

Leonardo DiCaprio, known for roles in films such as “Titanic” and “Django Unchained,” donated $3,217 to both Ossoff and Warnock for their runoff efforts.  

Dan Castellaneta, the voice of the iconic “Simpsons” character Homer Simpson, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates in the last two years, including $6,967 to Warnock and $9,767 to Ossoff.

Warnock received donations from Atlanta developer Noel Khalil, the founding partner and CEO of Columbia Residential. Ossoff also received donations from prominent Georgians, including Katy Barksdale, president of The Rockdale Foundation, which focuses on community and education projects. 

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