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Outsiders pay most to House campaigns

Map showing out-of-state contributions to House members. For detail, see

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama were hustling for votes in Ohio today, just eight days before Election Day.
They're getting most of the attention, of course.
But a third of the Senate and all 435 seats in the House are up for grabs, too.
Even though Congressional approval ratings are at rock bottom, incumbents are enjoying their usual advantage. A massive cash advantage.
According to a study from the nonprofit campaign watchdog maplight.org, over the past three years House members have raised more than $700 million dollars for their reelection campaigns. More than 70 percent ($500 million) of it from people who can't even vote for them. From Washington, Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn:
The typical congressman raises almost 80 percent of his campaign money from people who live outside his district, according to Dan Newman at Maplight.

Dan Newman: Politicians will tell you that they represent you--but if the money that fuels their campaign comes overwhelmingly from elsewhere, that raises real democratic questions about who is really running the show.

James Thurber is a campaign finance expert at American University. He's been tracking political giving for years.

James Thurber: If members follow the money, in terms of talking to people or even voting a particular way, that really undermines what the constituents want in their district.

Members who represent low-income districts say they have to raise money from outsiders to survive. And no one's surprised that powerful members who sit on key committees raise money this way.

Thurber: Money goes to people who have power.

But Thurber was surprised so much outside money flowed to even junior lawmakers. In fact, just 13 House members raised more than half their cash from their own constituents. Maplight's Dan Newman says special interests spread their money around to cover their bases. Outside donors have given Democratic Congressman John Tanner 99 percent of all his campaign cash.

John Tanner: I'm reluctant to ask my friends at home to give me money when I have money in the bank.

Back home in Tanner's rural western Tennessee district that doesn't sit well. Rob Vandiver is a constituent.

Rob Vandiver: How can a congressman say with a straight face that he represents the people in his district when only a fraction of a percentage of his money comes from within that district?

But Tanner says that his constituents come first. Still--

Tanner: In this town you have to raise money to participate in the system. I don't like the system but that is the system that we deal with.

The town Tanner's referring to is Washington. And in three years, more than $200 million in donations to congressional campaigns came from inside its Beltway.

In Washington I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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