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New Analysis: Tea Party Outraised in High-Dollar Primaries

Our new report uses campaign finance data to show the evolving impact of big money in American elections in the wake of Citizens United and other important Supreme Court decisions.

April 29, 2014

Contact: Naren Daniel,, 646–292–8381

New York, NY – In the 2014 election season’s high-dollar competitive primaries, Tea Party candidates have been largely out-fundraised, according to a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

High-Dollar 2014 Primary Elections uses quarterly Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance filings data in 16 competitive congressional primary races to show the evolving impact of big money in American elections in the wake of Citizens United and other important Supreme Court decisions.

Although it’s early in the election cycle, the analysis found several other patterns: Candidate-specific super PACs are providing opportunities for big donors to spend at far higher levels than limits on direct contributions to candidates allow. Self-financed candidates are a major factor in these high-dollar races. And small donors are having a limited impact: Only 9 percent of funds in these races came from donations of $200 or less.

Some of the highlights:

  • Tea Party candidates outraised: A large majority of high-dollar primaries are Republican contests: 12 of 16. Within the 12 Republican primaries, at least two-thirds have been identified as having a Tea Party candidate. All but two of the Tea Party candidates included in this analysis have been significantly outraised by primary opponents. In the four races where candidate self-financing did not play a major factor, Tea Party candidates on average were outraised by a margin of almost 2 to 1, with Tea Party candidates raising just over $650,000 on average and other candidates raising almost $1.2 million on average.
  • Candidate-specific super PACs: One contest suggests the crucial role of candidate-specific super PACs in the 2012 presidential election may foreshadow a greater role for them in congressional races. Candidate-specific super PACs dominated outside spending in FL-19, where virtually all the independent expenditures came from single-candidate groups. The pattern of giving illustrates the concern that candidate-specific super PACs can be vehicles for circumventing contribution limits: Three individual donors who maxed out on direct contributions to their favored candidate’s primary campaign also bankrolled single-candidate groups with donations ranging from $160,000 to $1.6 million.
  • Self-financing candidates: In high-dollar races so far, self-financing by candidates is a major factor: 27 percent of money raised came from candidates themselves. In the 16 high-dollar primaries, 12 candidates have already spent $200,000 or more on their own bids, and four candidates have plowed more than $1 million into their campaigns.
  • Small donors: Small contributions are a relatively insignificant aspect of fundraising in high-dollar races: Only 9 percent of funds came from donors of $200 or less.
  • Dark money: Dark money continues to be a factor where there has been significant outside spending: 45 percent of independent expenditures in the first quarter came from groups that disclose either none or only some of their donors.

Click here to read High-Dollar 2014 Primary Elections.

Click here to read more about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.

For more information, or to speak with the report’s authors, please contact Naren Daniel at or (646) 292–8381.