A look inside the record-breaking Senate runoff fundraising

Atlanta resident Marjorie Pak is the kind of voter who will put a sign in her yard or a bumper sticker on her car, but this year is different.

Pak, a linguistics professor at Emory University, has knocked on doors, made phone calls, and contributed money to the campaigns of Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

“With this election, I’ve gone full throttle,” she said. “This election, I feel like I have much more interest in supporting these candidates than I have ever had.”

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of voters like Pak chipped in since the Nov. 3 general election, pouring in donations to Ossoff and Warnock and Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Last week, the campaigns filed disclosures for the pre-runoff period, shattering federal fundraising records with a combined $340 million in donations from mid-October to mid-December.

The results of Tuesday’s election will determine which party controls the Senate, and an AJC analysis of individual donors to the campaign gives some idea about what they are fighting for. The analysis looked at itemized donations from individuals, which made up a large portion of each candidate’s haul.

With such high stakes, the races have drawn interest and money from every state and territory, and all four candidates have received vastly more money from outside of Georgia than from within it.

California leads the way

The largest donor state for Ossoff and Warnock was California, which contributed $13.1 million to Warnock and $14.7 million to Ossoff. New York and Massachusetts followed as top-tier donors for both men. For Warnock, Georgia came in fourth place with $2.8 million in donations. For Ossoff, Georgia was fifth place (after Washington state) with $2.5 million.

Among the California donors are some notable Hollywood celebrities. Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston and the Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, are among the dozens of A-listers who contributed to both Democrats in the past two months.

While the stars came out for the challengers, California also was Loeffler’s most generous state, with $4 million in donations. Texas and Florida followed closely behind with $3.9 million and $3.8 million, respectively. Georgia was fourth with $3.1 million.

Perdue was the only candidate to list Georgia as the top donor state for the runoff period with at least $5.4 million. Florida and Texas follow closely with $5.1 million each, then California with $4.9 million.

Top executives donate to Republican incumbents

Federal rules require campaigns to disclose certain information about individual donors, including their occupation and employer, but there is a limit to what those disclosures reveal. For instance, the most common response for donors was “none” or “retired,” followed closely by “self-employed.” This is because donors tend to be older and often are at the top of the corporate hierarchy.

For those who listed it, the most common occupation among Perdue and Loeffler donors was CEO. Perdue, a former CEO himself, received $1.5 million contributions from donors who described themselves as the top officer of their organization, while Loeffler received nearly $1 million.

The list includes some notable leaders, including Coca-Cola Enterprises CEO John Brock, and Georgia Power Chairman and CEO Paul Bowers, who contributed to Perdue. Taylor Glover, CEO of Turner Enterprises, which manages the holdings of Ted Turner, is one of Loeffler’s contributors. Many top executives contributed to both Republicans, including Waffle House Chairman Joe Rogers and James Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, which owns the AJC, but the list includes many more small business owners.

John Brown has owned DeKalb Tool & Die in Tucker for 52 years and contributed to Perdue’s campaign. Brown said he appreciates Perdue’s business background.

“Sen. Perdue was a businessman, and I think that’s what’s lacking in Washington today,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people in Washington who have never held a job.”

Brown said he is worried about what he sees as runaway spending in Washington and specifically mentioned the recent omnibus spending and COVID-19 relief bill President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law last week.

“You would have to agree most politicians are misguided and looking out for their own interest rather that the country,” he said. “I think David Perdue will continue to try and stop some of it.”

That said, he is worried about the upcoming vote.

“Based on the (November) election, I’m pessimistic about what’s going to happen,” he said.

Polls show both races close.

Big tech favors Democrats

Since the November vote sent both races to a runoff, Ossoff and Warnock have campaigned together as a team, and donations reflect that with many donors sending money to both. Records show the top occupations of donors to both campaigns are attorney, physician, professor and software engineer, in that order.

The two Democratic challengers have attracted support from big tech firms which also donated heavily to President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign. Donors who listed their employers as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and other major technology companies accounted for $1.3 million in donations over the past two month to Ossoff. Warnock received about $1.2 million from employees of the same companies.

The backgrounds of the candidates matter. For example, Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, made their fortune in finance, and her campaign has received a lot of support from Wall Street, including millions in donations to friendly political action committees. Warnock, who is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, attracted at least $80,000 from donors who identified as ministers, priests, pastors or clergy, more than twice the amount donated to Loeffler.

The Rev. Dwight Andrews, pastor of First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta, donated to Warnock’s campaign, but not because he is a fellow minister.

“I’m supporting him because I think he is absolutely the best candidate, hands down,” he said.

Andrews knows the candidate personally, having attended his installation as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist in 2005. Over the years, Andrews said he has come to know Warnock as a leader and a man of integrity.

“He’s a decent man,” he said. “And by my way of thinking, this is a very obscene time in the body politic.”