Study: One-Fourth of ‘Maxed-Out’ Campaign Contributions Come From the Richest 1% of Zip Codes

Congressional Candidates Received $1.6 Billion in Maxed-out Donations in the Past Three Election Cycles But 60% of Zip Codes Did Not Provide a Single One

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two-thirds of the “maxed-out” campaign contributions that members of Congress spend much of their time pursuing come from Americans living in the wealthiest 10% of zip codes in the United States, according to a Public Citizen study, “The Well of the Congress,” released today.

Fully one-fourth of these contributions come from donors living in the wealthiest 1% of zip codes – and more than half come from the wealthiest 4%. The study found that maxed-out contributions also are highly correlated with the racial composition of neighborhoods. Zip codes with a majority white, non-Hispanic population provided four times more per person in maxed-out contributions than majority Hispanic zip codes, and five times more than majority Black zip codes.

“This study confirms that the very wealthiest Americans play an immensely greater role than regular voters in choosing our elected officials, and that members of Congress have a strong incentive to align their positions with wealthy donors’ interests,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the study. “Anybody disputing the influence of campaign contributions should ask themselves if members of Congress would govern in the same way if they relied on the poorest 10% of zip codes for the bulk of their contributions instead of the wealthiest.”

“Our representatives’ reliance on the wealthiest American to finance their campaigns is inherently corrupting,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen. “The funding provisions in the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would wean candidates off of their dependence on the 1% while encouraging them to listen more to the wishes of the other 99%. We stand at the precipice of historic change as we look forward towards next week’s debate. We urge all Senators to vote for the democracy we deserve.”

Candidates for Congress received more than $1.6 billion in maxed-out contributions in the past three election cycles. The maximum contribution in 2020 was $2,800. But maxed-out contributions come from a tiny slice of the electorate. Only about 1/33rd of 1 percent of voting age Americans made a maxed-out contribution in the past three election cycles. The entire populations of 60% of U.S. zip codes did not provide a single one.

Eight of the 10 zip codes providing the most in maxed-out contributions – out of nearly 32,000 nationwide – were located within the Manhattan borough of New York City. The zip code of Trump Tower ranked second nationally in total maxed-out contributions.

The prevalence of maxed-out contributions varies starkly between bordering communities. Residents of Manhattan, for example, gave more than 100 times more per person in maxed-out contributions than did residents of bordering boroughs Queens and the Bronx.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, pending in Congress, would furnish qualifying congressional candidates with a six-to-one match on small-dollar contributions in exchange for agreeing not to accept any contributions of more than $1,000.

The full study can be found here