TIME 2014 Election

Mega-Donors Give Big in State Elections

Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits the polling place after voting in Winnetka, Ill.
Andrew Nelles—AP Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits the polling place after voting in Winnetka, Ill., March 18, 2014.

Donors gave millions in races for governor, especially when they were the ones running

At least 29 donors have given $1 million or more to state-level campaigns so far this election, with a dozen of the big givers made up of self-funding candidates, according to an analysis of campaign finance data.

The other big donors to state campaigns in the 2014 election include billionaires, corporate giants, unions and nonprofit political groups. Each donor has shelled out more than 19 times the country’s median household income.

According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records collected by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, top donors include:

  • Illinois Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, who has given more than $14 million (* see below), mostly to fund his own campaign for governor;
  • Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf, who has used $10 million of his own money in an attempt to unseat unpopular incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican;
  • The Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has given at least $9.6 million to gubernatorial candidates in at least six states;
  • Arizona gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, who gave more than $5.3 million, nearly all to fund her own campaign, only to lose in the Republican primary;
  • And Chicago-based hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who has given more than $4.7 million, mostly to Rauner in Illinois.

The analysis is preliminary — the totals will only go up as more contribution reports are filed in the states. In addition, the National Institute is still processing reports that have already come in. Less than 80 percent of those reports have been processed thus far this election cycle. Rauner (*) alone, for example, has given at least $12 million more for a total of $26 million, state records show.

Despite those limitations, the Center still identified at least 29 of these million-dollar donors who have given more than $84 million out of the more than $1 billion in the two-year, 2014 election cycle. The Center looked at reports processed by the National Institute through Oct. 29.

While the race for U.S. Senate has grabbed most of the national election headlines this year, much of the action is at the state level. Thirty-six governorships are on the ballot in addition to more than 200 other statewide races and thousands of statehouse contests.

And unlike at the federal level, some states allow unlimited contributions to candidates. In addition, several states also allow direct contributions from the treasuries of corporations and unions.

Seeding their own chances

Rauner, Wolf and Jones are just three of at least 12 candidates for state-level office who have poured at least $1 million into their own campaigns.

States can limit contributions to candidates, but there are no such limitations on how much a candidate can give to his or her own campaign. That gives wealthy individuals with political aspirations an advantage over less wealthy opponents, said Bill Rosenberg, a political science professor at Drexel University.

“If an individual wants to run for public office, and they can be self-financed and the parties view them as reasonable candidates,” Rosenberg said, “a lot of times the party will just step out of the way because they can take those financial resources and put them into other races.”

In the case of Rauner, his early contributions to his campaign may have helped him attract even more cash to his joint campaign with running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti, including at least $4.5 million from Griffin and $7 million from the Republican Governors Association.

“The millions reassured prospective donors that the Republican Party wasn’t going to have a flash in the pan here, that he was going to be in until the end, that he wasn’t going to get outspent,” said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

Limitations on influence

But other donors who give directly to candidates often face strict limits.

In 21 states, corporations cannot give money to candidates’ campaigns, and 16 states ban unions from giving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Unions and corporations can give through their political action committees, though contributions may be limited.)

Thirty-eight states cap the amount a person or group can give to a single candidate.

And until recently, donors in more than a dozen states were limited in how much money they could give overall in an election cycle. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits at the federal level in April, with its ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. States such as Connecticut and Wisconsin have pledged to not enforce the limits in state elections this year.

It’s not yet clear how far-reaching the impact of the decision may be on this election. Still, the existing contribution limits largely shape the way money pours into elections.

The two states seeing the highest number of donations to candidates from the mega-donors so far are Texas, where individuals and political action committees can give candidates as much as they want, and Illinois, whose governor’s race allows unlimited contributions this cycle.

Six-figure donations are the norm in marquee races in Texas.

This cycle, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor, received at least $900,000 from Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who died in December 2013. Energy tycoon Kelcy Warren has given Abbott at least $450,000, while telecommunications executive Kenny Troutt along with his wife, Lisa, has given him at least $350,000.

Such large-scale giving does not carry a stigma in Texas of trying to buy access, according to Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. Instead, he said, it is “simply par for the course” in the Lone Star State.

“Large donations have little to no political blowback,” Jones said.

Under Illinois rules, if a candidate for statewide office contributes more than $250,000 to his or her own campaign, or if an outside group spends that amount supporting a candidate in the race, caps for contributions to a single candidate are thrown out in that race.

At first Rauner, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, avoided giving his opponent the chance for limitless fundraising by injecting $249,000, just below the threshold, into his campaign in March 2013.

But before the end of that year, Rauner gave his campaign another $1 million, pulling the plug on caps in the race. By now, the Republican nominee has contributed more than $26 million of his own money to his campaign, according to Illinois campaign finance records.

Rauner’s campaign did not respond to the Center’s request for comment.

His self-funding also cleared the path for incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and his running mate to accept more than $3.6 million from the Democratic Governors Association, more than $755,000 from Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner and millions from unions, including more than $1.2 million from a branch of the Service Employees International Union.

Getting around the limits

Even in states with contribution restrictions, well-heeled donors have found ways to give generously — and legally — to the candidates they favor.

In Pennsylvania, for example, corporations and unions can’t give directly to candidates, but they can give unlimited amounts of money if they establish a political action committee in the organization’s name. That’s how the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a state teachers union, gave $500,000 to Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign.

In New York, wealthy individuals can donate through multiple limited liability corporations to dodge the state’s $60,800 per cycle contribution limit for such businesses. Real estate magnate Leonard Litwin, for example, has given at least $1 million to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo using this method, according to a recent report by the New York Public Interest Research Group. The original sources of such contributions, though, are not reflected in the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ data.

A representative for Litwin did not respond to requests for comment.

Sometimes the best way around the rules is to avoid them altogether by giving to independent groups instead of candidate campaigns. Thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and subsequent rulings, there is no limit to what a person, corporation or union can give to independently acting political organizations.

The tactic is widespread this election. Roughly a fifth of the television ads airing in state-level races this cycle were paid for by groups that operate independently from candidates’ official campaigns, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

But many donors this cycle have given directly to candidates and helped fund outside political efforts beyond state-level races.

Eychaner, for example, may not make a list of million-dollar donors to candidates for state-level office this election. He has so far given at least $755,000 to Quinn in Illinois. But he has also given about $8 million to federal super PACs this year, according to the Federal Election Commission. In 2012, he was the largest Democratic donor to independent spending groups, having given $14 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A representative for Eychaner declined to comment.

On the other side, Griffin was one of the five largest donors to the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association in the first nine months of this year, according to the group’s latest tax filing.

A representative for Griffin declined to comment.

Why do they give?

For individual donors, there are several likely reasons why they may give to candidates’ campaigns, said Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt.

For some, political ideology is a motivating factor, Levitt said. For others, large contributions are a way for donors to thrust themselves into the public consciousness. Still others are looking to gain favor with the people who could end up regulating their business interests. Sometimes, it’s a combination of the three.

Though some corporations are ideologically motivated, most businesses’ political donations are effectively “bet hedging,” he said.

Cable television giant Comcast Corp. parceled out at least $1.2 million in donations to candidates for state-level office in 36 states, often with as little as $100 given to the campaign of a legislative candidate.

“We believe that it’s important to be involved in the political process,” said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. “There are probably thousands of bills and regulatory state actions every year that affect the company.”

Fitzmaurice said the company tends to give across party lines and mostly to incumbents.

The company gave to Democrats in 28 states, Republicans in 31 states and at least one independent in Alabama, the Center’s analysis shows.

Where the company directs its political donations could depend on factors such as whether an election could shift party control of a state legislature or whether a state is considering regulatory action, Fitzmaurice said.

“For a corporation, making a donation may well be laying a bed of good will for legislators or regulators down the line, either to prevent unfavorable legislation or to try and get favorable legislation,” Levitt said. “It’s not uncommon at all for legislators, at least, to do a mental check of whether they’ve received a contribution before they decide exactly how badly they want to schedule a particular meeting.”

Liz Essley Whyte contributed to this report.

TIME States

Missing Denver Broncos Fan Found Alive and Well

Denver Post—AP Paul Kitterman

Paul Kitterman was found Tuesday after he vanished during last week's Broncos game

A Denver Broncos fan who vanished at during last week’s game has been found about 90 miles away, police said Tuesday night. He was “unharmed” and no foul play is suspected.

Paul Kitterman, 53, was last seen leaving his seat at halftime as the Broncos played the San Diego Chargers on Thursday. His concerned family later filed a missing persons report. Denver police said Kitterman was found “unharmed” in Pueblo, Colorado.

NBC station KOAA reported that he was spotted wandering in a Kmart parking lot on Tuesday after police received a call from his ex-wife.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME Disaster

Residents of Pahoa, Hawaii, Are Preparing to Flee a Frightening Lava Flow

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen advancing across a pasture near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii
Reuters The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen advancing across a pasture between the Pahoa cemetery and Apa'a Street in this U.S. Geological Survey image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii on Oct. 25, 2014.

Those living in the direct path of the molten mass have already begun to leave

Lava inched closer to homes in Pahoa, Hawaii, on Monday evening, spurring the evacuation of residents living in the direct path of the molten mass gushing from the Big Island’s most active volcano.

Authorities and Pahoa residents have been nervously watching the lava coming from the nearby volcano Kilauea for months, since a fresh flow started moving northeast toward the tiny town of 900 earlier this summer.

One official told TIME that locals were taking the necessary precautions in case widespread evacuations are ordered. Over the weekend, residents living in close proximity to the lava flow packed their possessions into trailers in preparation.

As of Monday evening, the lava flow was within 70 yards of the nearest home, according to a statement released by the County Civil Defense Agency.

“Residents in the flow path were placed on an evacuation advisory and notified of possible need for evacuation beginning last night,” read the report.

Local officials continued to fret over the possibility that the lava may eventually cut into nearby Highway 130. The road serves as the major transportation thoroughfare in and out of the town and is used by approximately 8,000 to 10,000 commuters a day. As a precaution, county authorities have opened two auxiliary roads in the area.

Earlier in the day, reports of small-scale looting in the remote community began to surface. “Crime is starting to pick up because a lot of people abandoned their houses. Two of my brother-in-laws’ houses got ripped off,” Matt Purvis, an owner of a local bakery, told CNN.

Late last week, Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie penned an official request for a presidential disaster declaration, which would provide the state with federal assistance to bolster local emergency services.

TIME Guns

Nebraska School OKs ‘Tasteful’ Senior Portraits With Guns

The school board unanimously passed the rule

A rural Nebraska school district decided Monday to allow graduating high school seniors to pose with guns in their senior portraits, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

Broken Bow school board members voted 6-0 to approve the rule, which permits only the “tasteful and appropriate” display of firearms, and prohibits pointing the weapons at the camera or displaying a hunted animal in distress, according to the policy.

“The board, I believe, felt they wanted to give students who are involved in those kinds of things the opportunity to take a senior picture with their hobby, with their sport, just like anybody with any other hobby or sport,” superintendent Mark Sievering told the World-Herald.

Nebraska has no age minimum for hunting, although hunters below 12 must be supervised by a licensed hunter, according to state law. It is illegal under Nebraska law to possess a firearm on school grounds, unless the holder is in an exempt category, such as the police force.

The issue of having guns in or around schools has been especially salient after the Dec. 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, an event that prompted policymakers to question whether adequate gun safety laws were in place. Since that shooting, several organizations have argued that several gaps in gun laws still exist despite many states tightening background checks for firearm purchases. Yet Nebraska’s overall gun policies still lag behind other states, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose 2013 Gun Laws Scorecard gave the state a D.

[Omaha World-Herald]

TIME Natural Disasters

20 Million Set to Take Part in ‘Great ShakeOut’ Earthquake Drill

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

At 10:16 a.m on Thursday, millions of people around the world will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" moves

More than 20 million people around the world on Thursday are expected to take part in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual event that promotes earthquake readiness.

At 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 16, participants will practice the government-recommended “drop, cover and hold on” protocol, which involves getting on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk and holding on until the earthquake is over.

With 10.32 million people registered, California has the highest participation of any U.S. state or nation taking part. ShakeOut events are also happening inNew Zealand, Japan, Southern Italy and parts of Canada as well. More than 25 million people in total are participating in a ShakeOut event of some kind during 2014, according to the Great ShakeOut organization.

ShakeOuts started in California, where earthquakes are common, but soon spread to other states, and the drills are usually coordinated with local emergency services.

TIME 2014 Election

Bloomberg Helps Democratic Governors’ Group Close Gap on Republicans

Michael Bloomberg Decorated In  Paris
Chesnot—Getty Images Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg poses prior to be awarded with the Legion d'Honneur by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sept. 16, 2014 in Paris.

GOP's top donors include 5-Hour Energy founder

A national Republican group devoted to helping elect GOP governors has outraised its Democratic counterpart by more than $20 million in the first nine months of this year, but reports filed Wednesday with the Internal Revenue Service show that the gap is narrowing.

Though the Republican Governors Association raised about $68 million through the end of September, the Democratic Governors Association has been catching up with a record haul of more than $45 million, fueled by labor unions and former New York City mayor, billionaire and political independent, Michael Bloomberg.

The groups were neck-and-neck in the most recent quarter, with the Democrats only a half-million shy of the Republican group, which counts energy companies and billionaires David Koch and Sheldon Adelson among its top donors.

Battling over 36 governorships up for election this year, the two Washington, D.C.,-based groups have used those donations to go head-to-head on the airwaves, contribute directly to candidates and fund other political groups.

They spend in their own names and through a network of subsidiaries, with names such as Right Direction on the Republican side and Jobs and Opportunity on the Democratic side.

On television alone, the groups and their state branches account for nearly one-third of all television spending by independent groups in state-level races.

The Republican group has used its fundraising edge to purchase an estimated $19.7 million in television ads in 16 states through Oct. 13, more than any other non-party group in the country, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

The Democratic Governors Association has been the second-leading independent group, buying an estimated $12.3 million worth of ads in five states.

The Republican spending spree has been backed by multimillion-dollar donations in 2014 from a who’s who of Republican political donors.

Industrialist Koch, casino magnate Adelson and the private equity firm of 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava each contributed $2.5 million through the end of September to the Republican Governors Association.

Private equity head Mike Shannon and his wife, Mary Sue, along with hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin round out the group’s top five donors, at $2 million from the Shannons and $1.5 million from Griffin. Two energy companies, Devon Energy, at $900,000, and Duke Energy, at $775,000, are among the Republican group’s top 10 donors overall.

The top five donors to the Democratic group are all labor unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, has given $3.7 million to the Democratic governors’ group this year, while the country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, and their related political groups, have been the second- and third-largest donors, giving $2.8 million and $2.5 million, respectively. The Service Employees International Union and United Commercial Workers International Union each has given more than $2 million.

The unions have helped narrow the gap between the two political groups, especially in the final months leading up to the election. In 2010, the last time this many governors faced election, the Republican group held a $32.5 million fundraising advantage through the same period.

The biggest individual donor to the Democratic Governors Association is Bloomberg, who gave $1.1 million in September. It appears to be the first time he has contributed to either organization.

Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican turned independent, has also contributed nearly $7 million to Independence USA PAC, a super PAC active at both the federal and state levels that supports centrist candidates.

But the super PAC’s spending appears to be at cross-purposes with Bloomberg’s support of the Democratic governors’ group.

So far, the Independence USA PAC has spent more than $750,000 on TV ads supporting Rick Snyder, Michigan’s incumbent Republican governor. Meanwhile, aided by Bloomberg’s donation, the Democratic Governors Association has spent $7.2 million on ads mostly critical of Snyder.

The governors’ groups are what are known as 527s, tax-exempt organizations named for the IRS code they fall under, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions.

Both groups, which have been in existence for more than a decade, got a boost from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which, in conjunction with related federal rulings, removed restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions, and forced 24 states to revise their campaign finance rules.

Overall, independent groups have accounted for more than 20 percent of the estimated $495.4 million in spending on state- level races so far. That represents an increase compared to 2010, in which non-candidate and non-party groups accounted for only 12 percent of the $921.3 million spent.

The Center for Public Integrity is tracking political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate and state-level offices. Use these two, interactive features — with new data every Thursday — to see who is calling the shots and where the money is being spent.

TIME Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds a California Ban on Foie Gras

Forbidden Foie Gras Goes Underground At California 'Duckeasies'
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A worker performs "gavage," or force feeding, on ducks in the preparation of foie gras at Hudson Valley Farms in Ferndale, New York, U.S., on Sunday, July 15, 2012.

Haute diners in California will have to do without

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on foie gras, refusing to hear an appeal against the state’s kibosh on products made by “force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond a normal size,” Reuters reports.

Foie gras, French for “fatty liver,” is made by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese, a process that animal-rights activists have described as cruel and unethical. The birds’ unnaturally enlarged livers are then harvested for high-end dining.

A Los Angeles-based restaurant group, a foie gras producer in New York, and a group of foie gras farmers in Canada had challenged the ban, calling it a violation of federal protections barring states from interfering in interstate commerce, Reuters says.

The ban was passed in 2004 but went into effect in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

[Reuters]

Read next: The Case Against Eating Ethically-Raised Meat

TIME States

Oregon First Lady Bought Land To Farm Pot

Cylvia Hayes
Bruce Ely—AP Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Oct. 9, 2014.

“I was never financially involved with it"

Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes said late Monday that she bought land in a remote part of Washington state in 1997 to grow marijuana, just a few months after she illegally married an Ethiopian immigrant who paid her $5,000 in exchange for receiving his U.S. citizenship.

Patrick Siemion, a retired real estate broker, told the Oregonian that Hayes bought a 60-acre plot of land in Okanogan to grow pot with another, unidentified man. Hayes later released a statement saying that she was “involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man” and had little money.

“We lived together for several months on the property in Okanogan that was intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized,” she told the Oregonian. “I was never financially involved with it. I did not pay any part of the down payment or mortgage payments. I had no money. … In the spring of 1998 I began to make plans to get away. In July 1998 I moved to Central Oregon and began building a life and career that I am very proud of.”

Hayes told the public about her marriage to Abraham B. Abraham, her third husband, last week. Hayes, standing alone behind a podium, said that at the age of 29 she illegally married Abraham, then 18 years old, so he could get his American citizenship. Hayes’ fiancé, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, said Friday that he had only learned about her third marriage that week and had “some processing to do.”

TIME Accident

2 Children Injured, 1 Critically, in Bouncy House Accident

Bounce House Bouncy House
Getty Images

One of the toddlers was in critical condition as a result of the accident

Two toddlers were injured on Sunday, one critically, when a bouncy house they were playing in was carried away by the wind, according to local reports. The bouncy house at a farm in New Hampshire traveled between 50 and 60 feet.

The bouncy house was not properly tethered to the ground at the time of the accident, WDHD reports. A two-year-old was critically injured during the accident and was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, WCVB reports. His three-year-old companion was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua, N.H.

The incident is the latest in a string of bouncy house accidents, which child safety advocates have said is partially due to the fact that they can be purchased by anyone and most states lack safety guidelines.

TIME States

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Grocers Lobby To Make California First State To Ban Plastic Bags
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A single-use plastic bag floats along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. California grocers, who could realize $1 billion in new revenue from selling paper bags for a dime each, teamed up with environmentalists on a new push to make California the first state to ban plastic shopping bags. The retail and environmental lobbies, which backed many of 13 failed California bills since 2007 to curb or ban single-use plastic shopping bags, lost the face off against manufacturers of both plastic and paper bags who oppose restrictions on the sacks.

The ban will go into effect in 2015 for some businesses and 2016 for others

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes the state the first in the country to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban will go into effect in July 2015, prohibiting large grocery stores from using the material that often ends up as litter in the state’s waterways. Smaller businesses, like liquor and convenience stores, will need to follow suit in 2016. More than 100 municipalities in the state already have similar laws, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new law will allow the stores nixing plastic bags to charge 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag instead. The law also provides funds to plastic-bag manufacturers, an attempt to soften the blow as lawmakers push the shift toward producing reusable bags.

San Francisco became the first major American city to ban plastic bags in 2007, but the statewide ban may be a more powerful precedent as advocates in other states look to follow suit. The law’s enactment Tuesday marked an end to a long battle between lobbyists for the plastic bag industry and those worried about the bags’ effect on the environment.

California State Senator Kevin de Leόn, a co-author of the bill, called the new law “a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

“We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining—and growing—California jobs,” he said.

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