Opinion: An important corrective about Jon Ossoff's Georgia money

You know what they say about that word "assume," and what it does to "u" and "me." Well, I made an assumption in Wednesday's post about Jon Ossoff's in-state fund-raising total, and that turned out to be a mistake.

So as not to bury the lede: Ossoff has raised significantly more from Georgians than the $79,000 I calculated in that post. It was actually about $588,000 through his initial filing. That's obviously a huge difference, and I apologize for publishing the wrong figure.

Now I'll explain how it happened. The short version is the 97 percent figure in that WSJ graphic I relied on, as outlined in the original post, doesn't reflect the share of Ossoff's itemized contributions that came from outside Georgia. That figure is actually about 78 percent. And when you're talking about $2.6 million, a 19-point swing makes a big difference. About half a million dollars' worth.

Here's the longer version: The Ossoff campaign called me to challenge the figure I had for them. I explained how I'd arrived at it, and they sent me a spreadsheet with their numbers. I checked their numbers against what's filed at the Federal Election Commission's website, and the campaign is correct.

Let me say here that I didn't simply run with the WSJ numbers yesterday without doing any verification. I tested my methodology against reports from two of the five Republican candidates listed, and it checked out with them. That's when I made my assumption: that the other figures, and hence my methodology, would also be correct for the other four candidates, including Ossoff.

It was a bad assumption.

After the call from the Ossoff campaign, I downloaded all six candidates' FEC reports and checked (or re-checked) them against the figures in Wednesday's post. For the five Republican candidates, they were all right, or very close to right. For example, both the WSJ and I got 11 percent for Karen Handel's out-of-state donations. They got 17 percent for Judson Hill, I got 13 percent. The other Republicans were also in the ballpark.

But, as I stated above, when I ran the numbers for Ossoff I got 78 percent instead of 97 percent. Why such a large discrepancy? I'm not totally sure. Maybe, in Ossoff's case alone, the comparison was not against all itemized contributions, but against all contributions. The Ossoff campaign itself has made that comparison -- even though, as I explained in yesterday's post, that's really not even fair to themselves because some of the non-itemized contributions are bound to be from Georgians; the public just doesn't know how many. And when I compared Ossoff's out-of-state, itemized contributions to his total contributions, I got 93 percent. That's about as close to the WSJ's figures as what I got for the Republican candidates, so maybe that's what happened. There could be another explanation, but at this point I'm not sure it matters. There's no explanation that reduces Ossoff's in-state contributions to anything close to $79,000.

So to be clear, my mistake was verifying only some of the numbers, not all of them. Had I done the latter, I wouldn't have made this regrettable error.


How does this new information change my analysis from yesterday? The basic point -- I think Ossoff is not seeing the kind of local financial boom that would signal an electoral groundswell in the district -- remains the same. Admittedly, however, the numbers backing up that opinion aren't nearly as stark as what I originally wrote. For example, when comparing the in-state total for those five Republicans to his, the ratio is closer to 2:1 rather than 11:1. That's much less of a gap. At the same time, it is also true that receiving more than a third of the in-state donations in this race is in line with the share of the vote Democrats usually get in Sixth District races. It's about what you'd expect in a truly contested race (as opposed to the light opposition, electorally and financially, Tom Price faced in the district as an incumbent in recent years).

It also remains true that Ossoff's in-state/out-of-state proportion is vastly different from the Republicans'. His proportion among itemized contributions is 22 percent in-state, 78 percent out-of-state; the five Republicans' is pretty much the opposite of that at 83 percent in-state, 17 percent out-of-state. No matter how you slice it, his is a campaign overwhelmingly driven by financial support from outside Georgia.

Finally, while I was wading through the spreadsheets I decided to take the extra step of sorting the Georgia donations by ZIP code to see how many come from the Sixth District vs. other parts of the state. After all, support in the district was the point of the original post.

Here's what I found:

  • Ossoff: about $213,000, or 8 percent of his itemized contributions
  • Hill: about $202,000, or 51 percent of his itemized contributions
  • Handel: about $175,000, or 46 percent of her itemized contributions
  • Bob Gray: about $95,000, or 53 percent of his itemized contributions
  • Dan Moody: about $72,000, or 70 percent of his itemized contributions
  • Bruce LeVell: about $21,000, or 43 percent of his itemized contributions

Collectively, the Republicans got right at half of their itemized contributions from people who listed ZIP codes in the district, compared to less than 10 percent for Ossoff. Their total of about $565,000 represents a ratio of almost 3:1 over his total (still keeping in mind that non-itemized donations could change matters). So again, not as stark a difference as yesterday's post portrayed, but still well within the normal Republican/Democrat breakdown in the district rather than a sign of sweeping change.

About the Author

Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.