Presidential Candidates Find 51st State Overseas
Sunday, April 20, 2008
LONDON -- Sen. John McCain charmed donors over fish pâté in London. Sen. Hillary Clinton sent her husband to Dublin and London to hug for dollars. Sen. Barack Obama rallied supporters in Beijing by teleconference and sent his wife to London to pan for campaign gold.
The U.S. presidential candidates have raised more than $3 million in campaign contributions from Americans who live overseas, an unprecedented courtship of a slice of the U.S. electorate that was largely ignored in previous elections.
"They've finally woken up, after years of banging and knocking on their door, to the fact that there's 6 million of us -- that's a big state," said Susan Donnell, a member of Republicans Abroad who has lived in London for 15 years.
The number of Americans living overseas is commonly estimated at about 6 million -- twice the population of Chicago and greater than that of 33 U.S. states. Britain is home to about 300,000 Americans, nearly the population of Pittsburgh.
The candidates' pursuit of expatriates is driven by a razor-thin-close, cash-guzzling campaign and aided by Web technology that makes it easy to donate online from any corner of the planet. "It's huge," said Jim McGregor, an American investment adviser in Beijing who has organized fundraisers for Obama (D-Ill.). "I've been here since 1990, and I've never seen anything like this before."
Only U.S. citizens and green card holders are permitted to contribute to U.S. campaigns. So at elegant cocktail receptions from London to Tokyo, donors paying up to $2,300 each (the maximum contribution allowed by law) don't get through the door without their passports or some other proof of citizenship or permanent resident status.
Through the end of February, nine months before the 2008 general election, donations from expatriate Americans already totaled $2.8 million, more than double the $1.1 million raised in the entire 2004 campaign, and nearly six times the amount raised in 2000, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission records.
Obama raised the most by far -- about $1.4 million, more than twice the $556,300 raised by Clinton (D-N.Y.). McCain (R-Ariz.) raised $127,000 through February, although he more than doubled that amount at another London fundraiser last month. The FEC's March fundraising figures have not yet been released.
The candidates have actually raised much more abroad than the records indicate. Many Americans who live overseas maintain U.S. addresses that appear in FEC contributor records. That makes it difficult to track all overseas contributions.
For example, former president Bill Clinton raised more than $700,000 for his wife's campaign at back-to-back parties in Dublin and London in November, according to the campaign. He also held another high-priced event in London in October. But FEC records show much less from contributors with overseas addresses.
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) is widely believed to be the pioneer in overseas fundraising. His September fundraiser at London's Mandarin Oriental Hotel marked the first time a U.S. presidential candidate attended such an event outside the United States, according to Republicans in London and The Post's review of FEC records.
Giuliani spoke at a lunch for 90 supporters, who paid from $1,000 to $2,300 to join him for salmon at the upscale hotel by London's Hyde Park. Before he dropped out of the race, Giuliani had raised more than $250,000 from Americans abroad.