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Tea Party Candidates Boosted by Small Donors


"The small donor trend for Tea Partiers is unprecedented," says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics. Her group analyzed the most recent campaign donation numbers available from the Federal Elections Commission.

Those small donors are helping candidates pay for anti-establishment ads like the one likening political insiders in Washington to dinosaurs.

Typically, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Senate candidates get no more than 20 percent of their funds from small donors. But the latest numbers available from the Federal Elections Commission for some Tea Party favorites show much higher stats.

As of the second quarter, small donors filled about one-third of the campaign chests of Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey (30 percent, $3 million) and Florida's Marco Rubio (36 percent, $4.6 million). They accounted for nearly half of the funds for Delaware's Christine O'Donnell (45 percent, $119,000) and Kentucky's Rand Paul (46 percent, $1.6 million). And they made up more than half of the early donations given to Alaska's Joe Miller (51 percent, $144,000) and Nevada's Sharron Angle (58 percent $2.05 million).

The Tea Partiers are getting a fair share from big donors, too. Their top supporter is the fiscally conservative "Club for Growth."

"The Club for Growth gets a lot of its contributions from retirees," says Krumholz. "These are not your average pensioners. These are people who are former CEO's or industry leaders."

The Club for Growth has been around eleven years and supported Republicans long before there was a Tea Party.

This year, its top three beneficiaries are Tea Party-backed Republicans running for Senate. That includes nearly $700,000 for Pat Toomey. Until last year, he happened to be president of the "Club for Growth."

(Top three Senate candidate recipients for Club for Growth as of the second quarter: Toomey $697,155, Rubio: $321,550, Angle: $237,900)

Krumholz says the small donor trend is bigger than ever before seen in any election they've monitored. But there are candidates outside the Tea Party also seeing similar numbers.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has raised 42 percent ($5.5 million) from people giving $200 or less. His opponent is a Tea Party-backed candidate named Ron Johnson who's become his own "big" donor. He's injected $4.4 million dollars of his own fortune into his campaign.

Other stats from Center for Responsive Politics:

  • $3.7 billion will be spent on this midterm election, and that's a conservative estimate made before a Supreme Court ruling that opened up fundraising and spending. The $3.7 billion would be a 20-30 percent increase over 2006.
  • $700 million dollars has been raised by candidates for the House.
  • $400 million dollars has been raised by candidates for the Senate. Special Report: Election 2010

Nevada Senate Election 2010: Harry Reid (D) Vs. Sharron Angle (R)

Florida Senate Election 2010: Marco Rubio (R) vs. Kendrick Meek (D) vs. Charlie Crist (I)

Kentucky Senate Election 2010: Rand Paul (R) vs. Jack Conway (D)

In this Feb. 19, 2008, file photo, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, listens to questions from members of the Capitol press corps., following his address of the state legislature, in Juneau, Alaska. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, died in a small plane crash in Alaska, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. He was 86. <br><br> <a href="" class="linkIcon read"><b> Spokesman: Ex-Sen. Ted Stevens Dead in Crash</b></a> Chris Miller
Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News Investigative Correspondent based in Washington. You can read more of her posts in Hotsheet here.
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