Where are the top California U.S. Senate candidates raising their cash?

In northwest Los Angeles, a 15-square-mile enclave sits at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains. Tucked between Bel Air and the ridges, the neighborhood is where nature, art and wealth concentrate: It boasts both the Getty Museum and the Skirball Cultural Center. 

It is also home to the most generous donors in California’s 2024 U.S. Senate race. 

Welcome to zip code 90049 — an area in Brentwood churning out more campaign cash for Senate candidates this year than any other California zip code, according to a CalMatters analysis of itemized federal campaign finance data for individual donors who have contributed more than $200 this year. 

As of Sept. 30, more than 170 donors who live there had collectively contributed roughly $300,000 to U.S. Senate candidates, with $283,000 — 97% — going to three prominent Democrats: U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam Schiff of Burbank.

The three have been top fundraisers in the race to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, hauling in a total of $35 million from individuals, political action committees and other groups by the end of September. Schiff entered October with $32 million in the bank — more than all his opponents combined — while Porter had $12 million and Lee, $1.3 million. 

With Feinstein’s death in late September, there will be two simultaneous contests in the March 5 primary and Nov. 5 general election — one for the final two months of her term and the other for a full six-year term. That also means that candidate campaigns can collect twice the maximum amount from each individual donor — a total of $6,600

The current officeholder, Laphonza Butler, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, announced earlier this month that she won’t run next year to try to keep the seat. That means it’s the first open race for one of California’s U.S. Senate seats since Feinstein was first elected in 1992. And it will be awash in campaign cash.   

Schiff is the most popular candidate among donors who live in 90049: They gave his campaign roughly $200,000 this year — more than he received anywhere else in the state. Porter netted $76,000 and Lee $6,700 from the same area. 

The zip code was also the most active in political contributions as the 2020 presidential race was heating up in fall 2019, contributing at least $1.3 million by Sept. 30 that year. Vice President Kamala Harris — then California’s junior U.S. senator — received $300,000 from the area, more than any of her primary opponents.

And Greater Los Angeles — the second-most populous urban center in the United States — consistently ranks among metro areas generating the most campaign contributions, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group, based in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in U.S. politics and that is assisting CalMatters in analyzing the U.S. Senate money race.

So far, donors in the city of Los Angeles have made at least $1.6 million in contributions — more than any other city in the state, data shows. And of the top 20 California zip codes contributing the most amounts this year, 11 are in Los Angeles County. 

“Particularly among Democratic candidates, there are a lot of rich liberals, and that’s something you don’t necessarily see in every location,”said John Pitney, professor of political science at the Claremont McKenna College. 

Home field advantage?

Schiff, who has represented northern Los Angeles County since 2001, has attracted most of the campaign contributions from his home county, itemized data shows.

His campaign received $1.2 million of the total $1.6 million in contributions from Los Angeles donors. Of the top 10 California zip codes giving to his campaign, eight are located in Los Angeles County. 

However, just one — 90210 in Beverly Hills — falls at least partially within the congressional district he represents. Most — such as Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica — are represented by U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from Sherman Oaks.

Left: US Representative Adam Schiff. Photo by Ron Sachs, CNP/startraksphoto.com/Cover Images via Reuters; Center: US Representative Barbara Lee. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, AP Photo; Right: US Representative Katie Porter. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Left: Rep. Adam Schiff. Photo by Ron Sachs, CNP/startraksphoto.com/Cover Images via Reuters; Center: Rep. Barbara Lee. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, AP Photo; Right: Rep. Katie Porter. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

Lee’s top-contributing zip codes are mainly in Northern California, such as her home city of Oakland, as well as Berkeley and San Jose, data shows. Unlike Schiff, most of Lee’s top-contributing zip codes fall within her district. 

Most Oakland donors to the three Democrats gave to Lee, who netted $314,000 from the city, compared to just $61,000 for Schiff and $44,000 for Porter in the first nine months of the year. Lee also raised the most from Berkeley, bringing in more than $146,000. Schiff received a little less than $60,000 from Berkeley donors and Porter $35,000.

Porter, who represents a competitive congressional district and who defeated her Republican challenger by just 3 percentage points in November 2022, is not relying on much campaign cash from her home district for her Senate campaign so far. 

Of the top 10 California zip codes contributing to Porter’s campaign, only one — 92651 in Laguna Beach — is in Orange County. Like Schiff, her top-contributing zip code is also 90049 in Brentwood. 

One reason for the lack of home district support for Porter — Orange County is more Republican than Los Angeles and Alameda, according to voter registration data maintained by California Secretary of State. “If you have a predominantly Democratic district, that may very well be where a lot of Democratic dollars live, too,” Pitney said. 

Additionally, Porter’s candidacy is partly boosted by her viral whiteboard approach to congressional hearings, he said: “If you’d like seeing a progressive member of Congress humiliate a bad guy in a congressional hearing, you could be just about anywhere in California.”

In-state vs. out-of-state money

Despite having different fundraising strongholds across the state, the three top Democrats have one thing in common: More than half of their contributions from individuals and political action committees come from within California, according to the CalMatters analysis, which only includes itemized contributions and does not include transfers from the candidates’ congressional accounts or any refunds to donors.

Lee has the highest share of in-state money among the three — 64.6% — collecting $1.6 million from in-state donors. Schiff ranks second with 58.4% and Porter, a close third, raised 57.9% from the state.

But Schiff’s campaign had the highest amount of in-state contributions, totaling $6.4 million from donors who each gave more than $200 this year.

Out-of-state contributions for all three candidates are from across the nation — sometimes even from abroad. 

New York donors top the list for Lee, Schiff and Porter, contributing a total of $1 million. Schiff’s campaign received $727,000 from New Yorkers, while Porter got $218,000 and Lee $139,000. 

Some donors made campaign contributions with addresses registered in Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, Italy, United Kingdom and Australia, data shows. Federal law allows American citizens to contribute while abroad, but foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing directly or indirectly to American elections. 

‘Not employed’ — but ready to give

There’s another fundraising theme that Lee, Schiff and Porter have in common. 

If you rank their campaign contributions by occupation, topping the list are donors who say they don’t have one — the “Not Employed.” They have contributed at least $4.6 million to the three campaigns, with Schiff leading with $2.6 million, Porter with $1.3 million and Lee $726,000. 

Does that mean they are all scraping by without reliable income? Not quite.

The category is so broad it includes those between jobs, homemakers, philanthropists or investors, said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a Washington, D.C.-based bipartisan political reform advocacy group. 

Among top California Senate race donors who marked themselves “Not Employed” are several philanthropists, according to the CalMatters analysis. 

That includes Nancy Nordhoff, a Seattle-based philanthropist focused on environmental and feminist causes, who contributed the maximum $6,600 to Schiff, records show. It also includes Colleen Haas, who, along with her husband Bob Haas, donated $24 million to the University of California Berkeley in 2020. She contributed $5,600 to Lee, $3,500 to Porter and $3,300 to Schiff. Neither Nordhoff nor Haas could be reached for comment. 

Donors who identify themselves as retired are the second biggest occupation in itemized contributions to the Senate candidates, giving at least $2.9 million on Lee, Schiff and Porter’s campaigns.

The role of retirees is not unique to California. “For years and years and years, retirees have shown themselves to be a very significant force in politics because … they often have more wealth at their disposal than younger Americans, who are just breaking into the job market or paying off student debts,” Beckel said.

But in California, retirees represent “a very special self-selected sliver,” Pitney said.

“We're not talking about a little old lady eating cat food,” he said. “It may be a retired CEO or retired lawyer, perhaps doing a lot of pro bono work, that technically isn't employed.”

Attorneys are the third-biggest contributing occupation to all three candidates. Schiff — a former attorney and prosecutor — took in $1.4 million, more than Porter and Lee combined. Porter — a former investigator and professor of law — received $426,000 from attorneys while Lee received $125,000.

But among donors who identify as professors, Schiff — not Porter — received the most, netting more than $84,000. Porter took in $81,000 from professors, but that accounts for a larger share of Porter’s fundraising compared to Lee and Schiff.

Lee, Porter and Schiff’s campaigns have generally attracted donors from many of the same  industries in the first three quarters of 2023. Donors who work at education groups, law firms or Democratic or liberal groups gave the most to the three candidates, according to an OpenSecrets analysis. 

Limiting PAC contributions

None of the three campaigns are relying heavily on cash from political action committees — committees formed to raise and spend money for political purposes. They are allowed to give as much as $10,000 to campaigns in this race, the maximum amount also doubled due to the special and regular elections.

Lee’s PAC contributions made up 3.7% of her total itemized contributions from individuals and groups. Schiff’s PAC contributions accounted for 1.9% of total contributions and Porter, 0.8%.

Schiff’s campaign received $210,000 from PACs, the most among the three Democrats. Lee received more than $89,000, while Porter received a little more than $34,000.

The lack of PAC contributions echoes candidates’ pledge to reject corporate PAC money, Beckel said.

“These types of pledges have been in vogue as politicians look for ways to connect with voters who feel like politics as usual in Washington isn't working,” he said. “Rejecting corporate PAC money is one way for candidates to signal to voters that they want to work to fix politics.”

Also, corporate PACs are generally “leery of a contested primary” and often back the incumbents, Pitney said.  

Schiff’s top contributing PACs each gave his campaign the maximum $10,000, including the leadership PAC associated with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who endorsed Schiff in February. She called Schiff someone “who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy,” Politico reported.

The other three PACs that each gave $10,000 are the FIREPAC, the political contribution arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed Schiff; the Credit Union National Association PAC, and the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC.

Porter’s top 10 contributing PACs are mostly ones dedicated to progressive causes or to electing Democratic women. Lee’s top 10 contributing PACs include leadership PACs from current and former congressional colleagues. For example, Sea Change PAC — one of the three PACs giving $10,000 to Lee’s campaign — is associated with former U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, now mayor of Los Angeles.

Some PACs gave to multiple candidates. 

For instance, the IBEW PAC Voluntary Fund and the Save Democracy PAC both contributed to Schiff and Porter’s campaigns. Both PACs gave $5,000 to Porter’s campaign committee during the first quarter, but also gave thousands more to Schiff’s campaign later in the year, records show.

Porter and Lee shared five PAC donors: Electing Women Bay Area PAC, Women’s Political Committee, Los Angeles Women’s Giving Collective PAC, Fight for Our Democracy PAC and Elect Democratic Women. Some contributed to both candidates within days.

The Washington, D.C.-based group Elect Democratic Women contributed $1,000 to Lee on March 20, and gave $1,000 to Porter two days after. The PAC later gave Lee another $1,500 throughout the year. The Los Angeles Women’s Giving Collective PAC gave $2,500 to Porter on March 22, and gave the same amount to Lee a week later. 

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