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Key Points

  • Peters raised 36 percent of his funds from individuals in his old City Council district, while DeMaio raised seven percent from his old district.
  • 70 percent of donations from individuals came from high-income ZIP codes.
  • 89 percent of all contributions came from individuals giving at least $200.
  • 74 percent of all contributions originated inside San Diego County.


The race for California’s 52nd Congressional District is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country, a rare opportunity for the opposing party to take down a sitting member of Congress.

It’s already attracted a lot of money, with Democratic incumbent Scott Peters and Republican challenger Carl DeMaio raising a combined $3.6 million through May 14, the date of the latest comprehensive campaign finance report.

Through May 14, Peters had raised $1,945,000 — including $53,000 in self-financing. DeMaio had raised $1,655,000. Included in those totals is political action committee money representing special interests like business sectors or labor unions. Peters got $737,000 in PAC money. DeMaio took in $155,000. Additionally, independent committees are expected to be big spenders in this race in the fall.

Both campaigns are raising most of that money from San Diego-area residents. But an inewsource analysis of their campaign contributions shows only one candidate’s former constituents from their days on the San Diego City Council are ponying up the dough.

INTERACTIVE: Click here for a searchable, interactive map of campaign contributions by ZIP code.

From 2000 to 2008, Peters represented the old 1st District, which stretched from La Jolla to the border of Del Mar and east to Carmel Valley. DeMaio represented the old 5th District, stretching from Rancho Bernardo and Mira Mesa west to Sorrento Valley, from 2008 through 2012.

When it comes to fundraising in those old districts, Peters is significantly outpacing DeMaio.

The Democrat [tooltip text=”has raised nearly 36 percent of his money” gravity=”sw”]Scroll to the bottom of this story for details on how inewsource analyzed the data.[/tooltip] from addresses in the former 1st District. Demaio has raised seven percent of his money from his former constituents.

Brian Adams, a professor of political science at San Diego State University, was surprised that DeMaio’s fundraising in his old district was so anemic, but he has a theory about it.

“When DeMaio was on the council, he really had citywide visibility and he really focused very much on developing a citywide reputation as opposed to Peters, who really was much more focused on his district and focused on working within his district,” Adams said.

DeMaio, who focused on such broad issues as pension reform while a councilman, filed papers to run for mayor of San Diego in January 2011, barely halfway through his first and only term on the council.

“DeMaio just developed a broader network within San Diego County than Peters did when they were on the council,” Adams said.

DeMaio has actually raised more money in Peters’ former council district than he has in his own, pulling in about $221,000 from the old 1st District. Peters raised $338,000 in the district.

Dave McCulloch, communications director for DeMaio’s campaign, declined to answer specific questions about inewsource’s analysis, instead issuing a statement saying the campaign was “thrilled at the broad-based support Carl’s positive message of reform is getting from people across the political spectrum.”

MaryAnne Pintar, campaign manager for Peters’ re-election bid, said the disparity in contributions from the candidates’ old council districts shows that Peters has done more to earn the trust of his constituents.

“Scott has been very successful in going back to the people who have supported him for years and said, ‘Hey, have I kept my promises? Have I done what I said I was going to do and have I been a good representative?’ and I think that’s why they are supporting him again,” Pintar said.

Wealthiest neighborhoods give big

If a disparity exists in support from their former constituents, there isn’t much of one when it comes to the sorts of neighborhoods the candidates are counting on to fund their campaigns.

Overall, 70 percent of the money raised from individuals who have given at least $200 has come from donors listing addresses in high-income ZIP codes. Twenty-eight percent has come from donors in middle-income ZIP codes. Just two percent has come from moderate- or low-income ZIP codes.

Such a reliance on donors from the wealthiest parts of town is not surprising to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based nonprofit research organization that tracks money in politics.

Krumholz said that San Diego (and California generally) is a hotbed for fundraising by politicians all over the country hoping to tap into the region’s large pool of well-off individuals.

“Given the pockets of affluence in San Diego County, it’s not surprising that there’s relatively more money coming from moneyed elites,” Krumholz said.

Peters was particularly reliant on those wealthier ZIP codes.

Seventy-seven percent of his money came from high-income ZIP codes, compared to 65 percent of DeMaio’s.

Pintar said the high proportion of Peters’ contributions originating in the region’s wealthier neighborhoods was partly the result of those areas being part of Peters’ districts — both his old City Council district and his current House district.

“La Jolla, downtown, Point Loma — those are places that he’s represented in Congress for a couple of years,” Pintar said. “I think the two just happened to overlap.”

Pintar also said that while not everyone can make large donations, the campaign values smaller contributions “because it shows a base of support and those do add up and they mean a lot to us.”

Overall, 89 percent of money given by individuals came from donors who have contributed at least $200 to one of the campaigns. Those numbers were nearly identical for both campaigns.

Adams said the preponderance of contributions from people who’ve given at least $200 is indicative of the quality of the candidates and the high-profile nature of the race. An individual may give no more than $2,600 in each of the primary and general elections.

Adams said that when there’s a contest between two candidates like DeMaio and Peters who are established and adept at fundraising, “they’re going to get a lot of large donors and those small donors just aren’t going to play a big role in the campaign.”

Most money coming from San Diego County

And while neither candidate can claim widespread financial support from less wealthy ZIP codes, both do get most of their money from the San Diego region.

Overall, 74 percent of funds raised from individuals came from within San Diego County, and 47 percent of such funds came from within the 52nd District.

Krumholz said it’s unusual for candidates to raise such a large percentage of their funds locally, again pointing to California’s reputation as a go-to spot for candidates hunting for dollars.

“If you’re a candidate running in New York or California, you don’t have to go very far to find the funds to fill your coffers.”

Peters’ support from out-of-district contributions was slightly stronger than DeMaio’s. The Democrat received 30 percent of his money from outside the county, compared with 22 percent for his challenger.

Krumholz said that illustrates a fundraising advantage that incumbents tend to have.

“They may attract money easily and without much or any solicitation simply because of their status as an incumbent and perhaps more importantly, their congressional committee assignments,” she said.

How inewsource analyzed the data

The FEC only collects contribution-level data–such as donors’ addresses–on donations from individuals contributing at least $200 in a race. Therefore, the geographic analyses in this story excludes contributions from individuals donating less than that amount.

The geographic analyses also excludes contributions that listed a P.O. box or whose addresses could not be mapped to a precise location.

A ZIP code’s income level was calculated based on its median household income, as reported on the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, a product of the U.S. Census Bureau. A ZIP code was coded as high-income if its median household income was 120 percent or more of San Diego County’s median household income. It was coded as middle income if its median household income was between 80 percent and less than 120 percent. It was coded as moderate income if its median household income was between 50 percent and less than 80 percent. It was coded as low income if its median household income was less than 50 percent.

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.