WASHINGTON - Sen. Max Baucus took campaign contributions for a likely 2008 race from many of the industries he helps regulate and received nearly 91 percent of his individual donations from outside Montana.
In doing so, Baucus followed the pattern of most incumbents at a time when U.S. Senate races typically cost millions of dollars. But Baucus, a prolific fundraiser and head of the powerful Finance Committee, topped all his Senate colleagues up for re-election next year with his out-of-state individual contributions.
The Montana Democrat raised $7.4 million and had about $5.4 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Almost 91 percent of the money Baucus received from individuals, or $3.45 million, came from out of state, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Just over 9 percent, or $353,000, came from Montanans. Those figures are calculated from contributions of more than $200 from individuals, as reported to the Federal Election Commission, the group said.
Of all the Senate incumbents running for re-election in 2008, Baucus took in the most out-of-state money, the group said. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a close second, with $3.4 million. But McConnell's figure made up only 56.3 percent of his total contributions.
"Given (Baucus') situation, where he's from and that he's an incumbent, that's not eye-popping, but he is on the high side," said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.
Lawmakers from sparsely populated states typically pull in money from out of state, Ritsch said. That's particularly true for incumbents, because they're bringing in money not just from the people they represent but also from the industries whose interests they oversee and regulate, he added.
A fellow Senate Democrat who also heads a major committee, Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, took in $2.6 million in out-of-state contributions, or 83.1 percent of his total, to defend his seat in 2008.
Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said Montanans from each of the state's 56 counties have donated to the senator.
"We haven't kick-started the Montana fundraising effort yet, but you can expect to see folks coming out of the woodwork to support Max over the next 11 months," Kaiser said.
Baucus is widely expected to seek re-election, but has not yet formally announced his candidacy.
Individual donations came to Baucus largely from the typical big-donor states. Of the top 10 ZIP codes for individual donations, seven were in New York City. The list also included affluent Beverly Hills, Calif., and Greenwich, Conn. The only Montana ZIP code on the senator's top 10 list was 59802, in Missoula, at No. 10.
As for political action committee money, Baucus took in an atypically low percentage from labor for a Democrat, Ritsch said. Of the PAC money, 89.2 percent came from business groups and just 4.7 percent from labor unions. The remaining 6.1 percent came from ideological or single-issue groups.
PAC money came from many of the industries Baucus helps regulate. As head of the Finance Committee, he oversees legislation on taxes, trade, tariffs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The top industry supporting Baucus was insurance, which gave about $461,000. That was followed by securities and investments, then lawyers and law firms. The Center for Responsive Politics compiled those figures from PACs and from individual contributors listed with the companies as their employer.
The other highest-ranking industries were in the health sector, including pharmaceuticals, health products, health professionals and HMOs.
Grouped together, the finance, insurance and real estate sector gave the most to Baucus, nearly $1.5 million. Next came the health sector, at $1.1 million, and lawyers and lobbyists, with $639,000.
The single top contributor was investment banking giant Goldman Sachs with $50,200. The organization itself did not donate, but the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.
How much money does it take to run for U.S. Senate?
Former Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., spent almost $9.2 million on his unsuccessful 2006 re-election bid, according to the group. About 74 percent of his individual donations, or $3.6 million, came from out of state. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who won that race, spent nearly $5.6 million. Roughly 66 percent of his individual donations, or $2 million, came from out of state.
But that very close race was considered a key contest nationally by Republicans and Democrats.
Ritsch said that because of lower costs for television time and other factors, candidates in Montana generally shouldn't have to raise as much money as those campaigning elsewhere. "Montana is a big state, but it's not an expensive one to run for office in," he said.
But senators may have reason to raise large amounts going into an election regardless of the expenses they anticipate. So far, the only Republican to issue a challenge to Baucus is former Montana House Majority Leader Michael Lange, who has raised little money. The lack of opposition may be in part because of all the cash Baucus has raised, Ritsch said.
"A hefty bank account is a great defense," he said. "It deters people from taking you on. That's one reason incumbents bankroll as much as they do."
Baucus spokesman Kaiser noted that raising money is a reality in modern-day politics.
"Max thinks there's way too much money in politics," Kaiser said. "And he's supported every piece of real campaign finance reform ever put in front of him. But until the system is changed, he's not going to unilaterally disarm."
Kaiser added, "Max's robust fundraising numbers are a testament to his ability to be effective. There's a reason Max Baucus is so popular - he uses his seniority as chairman to be effective and get things done."
The amount Baucus raised and where it came from is typical for a lawmaker who has been in Congress so long and chairs a powerful committee, said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for the government watchdog group Common Cause. First elected to the Senate in 1978, Baucus' next six-year term would be his sixth.
Boyle said the average winning Senate campaign in 2006 cost $9.6 million. Baucus is merely doing what all lawmakers do, she said.
"It is incredibly expensive to run for the Senate right now," she said. "He is doing what he needs to do to run. It's not that he's playing bad or wrong, it's the system that's busted. He's doing as much as he can to raise as much as he can before his next re-election race."
People who give money, particularly the interests that are regulated by the Finance Committee, are seeking something in return, she said.
"I'm not saying they're buying votes from Senator Baucus, but it gets them in the door, it gets phone calls returned, it gets them some access and influence, more than your average Montanan walking in off the street," she said.
But she also said that the sources of his campaign money do not necessarily reflect how Baucus represents Montana.
"I think people from Montana who look at this need to understand that this is basically how the system is played, and in rural states this is typically what happens, and that we do need to change the system so that people in Montana do have more of a voice," she said.
Common Cause supports public financing of campaigns. Lawmakers spend "inordinate" amounts of time raising money and holding fundraisers all over the country, time that could be spent on issues, she said.
"That would take all those other interests who are trying to gain access and influence to Senator Baucus out of the picture and it would put the concerns of people from Montana more front and center," Boyle said.