In April, Democrats faced one of their first chances to win a major election since their devastating losses in 2016. After President Trump tapped the representative for Georgia’s Sixth District, Tom Price, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, eighteen candidates vied for the empty seat. Democrat Jon Ossoff won the plurality with 48.1 percent of the votes, but the results were only a symbolic victory for his party. Because he failed to win 50 percent, he and the next highest-scoring candidate, Republican Karen Handel, are competing in a runoff election tomorrow.
The stakes are high for each party. Democrats want a comeback, while Republicans want to prove that voters still favor their party despite Trump’s 39 percent approval rating. So far, the parties have collectively spent more than $29 million, making it the most expensive House race in history. A dive into campaign finance data shows that many groups are involved: from unions to corporations, and even the American public.
The HPR analyzed campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission through ProPublica’s FEC Itemizer tool for both Handel and Ossoff’s campaigns. The above graph shows the sources of each candidate’s campaign contributions using reports filed prior to the special and runoff elections. The FEC records five types of entities that can donate money:
- Individual people
- Political action committees: organizations that collect donations from people (not corporations or unions unless created by and for those specific groups) to fund campaigns
- Committees: organizations that raise and spend money on behalf of candidates;
- Candidate committees: committees authorized for a specific candidate;
- and organizations, groups that are neither committees nor people.
Individual donors served as the largest funding source for each candidate. However, once Handel was chosen to face Ossoff in the runoff election, her contributions from PACs and committees increased from 9 and 1 percent to 23 and 11 percent respectively. Ossoff, on the other hand, reports an increase from 6 to 9 percent from PACs and continues to receive less than 1 percent from committees.
Further differences can be found in PAC donations between the two candidates. PACs may only donate $5,000 to a candidate per election. Because Georgia’s Sixth sees two elections this year (the special election in April and tomorrow’s runoff election), Handel and Ossoff may receive a maximum of $10,000 from a given PAC this year. Only Handel’s PAC supporters have taken advantage of this rule: six PACs have contributed more than $5,000, four of which have contributed the maximum amount. All of Ossoff’s PAC donations stand at $5,000 or less.
Furthermore, the types of PACs donating to Handel and Ossoff differ in their purposes. Ossoff’s top PACs include many union PACs, such as the United Food And Commercial Workers International Union Active Ballot Club and the American Federation of Govt. Employees PAC. His list also includes issue-specific organizations, like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the National Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education. One of Handel’s top PACs is the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, an organization which supports anti-abortion candidates. Her supporters also include partisan PACs, like the Republican-oriented Value In Electing Women PAC and Right Now Women PAC, and corporate PACs like the The Home Depot PAC, the Coca-Cola Company Nonpartisan Committee For Good Government, and the General Electric PAC.
In her pre-special election filings, Handel reports a larger share of committee donations than Ossoff. Handel’s two authorized committees are Handel For Congress, Inc (the principal committee) and Friends of Handel. The latter received funds from another committee, three PACs, Rep. David Rouzer’s (R –N.C.) campaign committee, and one individual, for a total of $56,000. Because committees may receive money from other organizations, tracing the source of the donations can be difficult.
To understand individual contributions, the HPR averaged each person’s total donations to a given campaign. The above graph shows Handel had a lower average than Ossoff before the special election in April ($1,157 vs $1,267), presumably because multiple Republican candidates competed, diluting national attention. But Handel now boasts the larger average ($1,716 vs $1,592).
Both candidates’ averages increased, presumably from existing donors giving more combined with generous new donors. The increase shows that there has been a continued focus on the Georgia election; instead of forgetting about the race, Americans have been following along and showing their attention with their wallets.
Handel’s percent increase is nearly double Ossoff’s. This difference can be attributed in part to the flood of new donors. Before the special election, Handel raised roughly $374,000 from 323 donors. In her pre-runoff election filings, Handel reported over $1.2 million from 725 donors (which excludes people who only donated before the special election, but not those who donated in both elections).
In contrast, Ossoff saw a 26 percent increase in his average while having fewer donors. He raised $972,000 from 767 donors before the special election. In his pre-runoff filing, he reported $1.2 million from 758 donors.
All Eyes on Georgia’s Sixth
Despite Handel’s donation surge, she may not be able to keep up with Ossoff; he won 48.1 percent of votes in the special election, compared to her 19.8 percent. The FEC’s most recent reports show that Ossoff has received more than $23 million, while Handel has raised less than $4.5 million. Tomorrow’s election will reveal if her supporters’ sudden energy will prove enough to secure a seat in the House.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Department of the Interior (original image modified)