I-Team: Tri-State ‘Megadonors' Flood 2016 Election With Cash

What to Know

  • Megadonors are people who have spent more than $500,000 on political contributions this year
  • Seventy-four of the 351 megadonors in the nation are from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut
  • Eight contested Senate races are attracting tens of millions in outside contributions, with the most expensive contest being in Ohio

Wealthy donors are spending unprecedented sums to sway the 2016 election, and New York leads the way when it comes to the sheer number of "megadonors."

Federal Election Commission records show there are 351 individuals in the U.S. who have spent more than $500,000 on political contributions this year. Seventy-four of those "megadonors" hail from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. 

That means one in five megadonors lives in the tri-state area, representing the nation's biggest concentration of political king and queen-makers. 

The donors include well-known wealthy and reclusive billionaires. Many of them are seeking to influence not only the presidential election, but the heated battle for control of the U.S. Senate, records show. 

Ian Vanderwalker, who tracks money in politics at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, said rich donors are keenly aware their cash could tip the Senate to one or the other party this year. 

"You're seeing a lot of these megadonors. They're not giving to their homestate senator. They're giving to the a group that's vying for control of the Senate - the entire Senate," Vanderwalker said. "And if they can call in a favor after that contribution then they can call in a favor with the people who control the whole Senate." 

Vanderwalker recently released a report showing eight contested U.S. Senate races attracting tens of millions of dollars in outside contributions. The most expensive contest is in Ohio. 

The I-Team found New York financiers active in the state. 

Hedge funders Paul Singer and Robert Mercer used to bankroll the Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz presidential campaigns. More recently both billionaires have donated to Super PACs trying to re-elect Ohio Republican Sen. Bob Portman. 

On the other side of that Ohio race, investor George Soros and hedge funder James Simons are donating to PACs supporting Portman’s Democrat challenger, Ted Strickland. 

Other Senate races attracting New York political cash include New Hampshire’s Republican Kelly Ayotte versus Democrat Maggie Hassan, Pennsylvania’s Republican Pat Toomey versus Democrat Katie McGinty and Florida’s Republican Marco Rubio versus Democrat Patrick Murphy. 

Vanderwalker says each one of those races will take millions in donations to win. 

"Senate races used to be in the sort of low millions cost," he said. "Last cycle we had the most expensive Senate race ever and it cost well over $100 million."

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