Donors based outside N.H. are targeting the state like never before

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/27/2016 1:26:21 AM

Robert Tritt sat in front of his computer on Labor Day, clicked a few buttons, and from his home office in Kansas City, sent a $2,700 contribution to Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s campaign.

Tritt, a 61-year-old retired tech executive, has never met New Hampshire’s Republican senator. He has only watched the competitive U.S. Senate contest play out from his Missouri home, 1,400 miles away, in news clippings and on television.

But Tritt gave Ayotte the maximum donation allowed under federal law because he is eager to see the U.S. Senate stay under Republican control.

“I pick the races I think are close,” he said.

Tritt is one of hundreds of outside donors nationwide who together have contributed the vast majority of funds spent so far on the race between Ayotte and Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan.

A new report released this week found New Hampshire’s election has the highest share of out-of-state spending of all Senate contests in the country.

Almost 95 percent of the $81 million spent on the race so far has come from outside New Hampshire, the report found. The calculation means just $1 out of every $20 spent on mailers, television ads or political signs has been donated by a local resident.

On average, a Senate contest this cycle pulls far fewer dollars, or about 77 percent, from out-of-state donors, according to the report released Monday by the nonprofit advocacy group U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Spending in the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race is expected to reach a record-setting $100 million by Election Day.

The candidates have spent a fraction of that sum, roughly $23 million combined so far. The bulk of the money comes from outside groups, including super PACs, which raise few of their dollars from inside New Hampshire.

Sixteen of 37 outside groups spending in New Hampshire did not raise a single dollar from a state resident, according to the report.

Granite State Solutions, a top outside spender in the race supporting Ayotte, doesn’t have any financial ties to New Hampshire, the report found.

The group has spent more than $18 million, and all of it was raised from out-of-state donors. When asked whether the group’s name matches its financial backers, spokesman Ian Prior said, “We operate exclusively in New Hampshire and focus on New Hampshire issues.”

The trend isn’t confined to super PACs. Both Ayotte and Hassan have raised less than 30 percent of their largest campaign contributions from New Hampshire residents, the report found.

“If candidates want to compete in a Senate race in the world we live in today, they have to raise a huge amount of money,” said Chris MacKenzie, digital and communications director at U.S. PIRG, Democracy Campaign. “That requires them going outside the state’s borders in order to run a competitive campaign.”

Seventy-seven percent of Ayotte’s donations came from outside of New Hampshire, while 81 percent of contributions to Hassan’s campaign came from out of state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those percentages don’t include the more than $10 million in donations made to the candidates by political committees or people who gave less than $200, which are not reported or are difficult to trace to a certain state.

Hassan, in a statement, touted her local support. “Governor Hassan is proud to have the strong grassroots support of over 6,300 Granite Staters from every corner of New Hampshire for her campaign to take the New Hampshire way of bipartisan problem-solving to Washington,” said spokesman Aaron Jacobs.

Ayotte’s campaign sounded a similar tone. “Our campaign receives support from people across the state and the country who support Kelly’s efforts to solve problems and deliver results for New Hampshire,” said spokeswoman Liz Johnson.

The pair’s finance reports read like a who’s who of influencers in the United States.

Ayotte’s top out-of-state contributors include the owner of the San Diego Chargers, the president and COO of Goldman Sachs, and the CEO of JPMorgan, according to campaign filings.

Hassan’s top donors include the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, actress Monica Horan and director J.J. Abrams, according to campaign finance reports.

Many out-of-state donors are like Tritt – retirees or professionals across the country who are interested in spending on races that could tip control of the U.S. Senate.

Paul Heller, a Democrat from Atlanta, gave to Hassan’s campaign and five other Senate candidates. He didn’t know much about his picks beforehand, but he chose contests based on their competitiveness and whether he thought his donation could make a real difference.

“I am very excited about the potential of bringing back the Senate to a Democratic control,” said Heller, a retired hotel owner who now is an artist.

It’s the first time Heller has invested such a significant sum into Senate candidates across the country. He felt he had to keep up with Republicans who are focused on down-ballot races as they grapple with a controversial presidential nominee. Heller keeps the handwritten thank-you note he got from Hassan.

Tritt cut checks for seven candidates last election cycle, but he only doled out donations to two this year: Ayotte and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. His selection criteria includes a requirement the race be competitive, but he also invests in diverse candidates who he feels represent the future of the Republican Party.

“I am attracted to people that would seem to have conservative values but project a willingness to work with others,” he said. Tritt went 7-0 in the 2014 election and this year is hoping his investments will lead to similar odds.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)




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