Rita Collins has contributed to political campaigns for over 30 years, but in 2011, nearly 500 miles away from her hometown in Washington, DC, she found her girl – in the bay state of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren was calling for economic equality in the United States. Since then, Collins has contributed to Sen. Warren’s campaign 58 times, spending a total of $1,094 on a senator who represents a state other than her own.
And she’s not alone. Nearly 60 percent of contributors to Warren’s campaign live outside of Massachusetts.
But for Collins, and for many of the other out-of-state supporters who found themselves on a list of Warren’s most frequent contributors, it’s simple: they believe in her message and her ability to create change on Capitol Hill.
“This is making sure that, not only does she hear she is supported verbally, but also financially,” the 64-year-old nurse said. “It’s keeping her strong, independent, and capable of speaking up for the rest of us who can’t.”
While some may be hesitant or find it foolish to contribute to representatives from other states, Warren’s top supporters are from scattered cities across the U.S., many of them contributing more times than those in her own state.
The owner of a beauty supply company in Duluth, Ga. has contributed $2,318 over the course of 104 donations. A physician in Tallahassee, Fla. made 76 payments totaling $6,163. And a retired professor in Lawrence, Kan. religiously contributed at least once a week from January – November in 2012, making 60 payments totaling $1,029 that year.
For Thomas Whalen, a professor of social science and expert in American politics from Boston University, these numbers and the geographical statistics of Warren’s campaign contributions indicate that she has a larger reach outside of Massachusetts than some may assume.
“The message is everything, isn’t it?” Whalen said. “Her message transcends the borders of Massachusetts and New England. They see that she’s talking about the problems in our political system and our financial system that need fixing. People who are contributing to Elizabeth Warren want change on Capitol Hill, not Beacon Hill.”
Whalen said the high number of repeated contributions speaks to Warren’s character as a successful grassroots candidate who has gained the confidence of her constituents.
For many, making multiple small payments is a way of showing their level of continuous dedication and support without breaking the bank through one large lump-sum contribution.
“She has energized the base who has felt kind of shut out from the process,” Whalen said. “They’re willing to contribute their hard earned money, and money they don’t really have to spare, for the larger cause here. And the fact that they do it several times – it’s really remarkable and it’s a testament to her political power.”
This political power may get her far. Although the senator has chosen to forgo a presidential run in 2016, a strong national base of supporters will benefit Warren as the next president appoints executive leaders to his or her cabinet, Whalen said.
“While she might not be running for president this election cycle, she could easily be tapped by a victorious Hillary Clinton for a major Cabinet-level position,” he said. “[Warren’s] political stock is soaring right now and this would be a logical step in advancing her career.”
And that’s exactly what these contributors are hoping for.
Collins was a supporter of Warren’s policy views long before she announced her senatorial run in 2011. The senator’s history as one of the key advocates for a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010 attracted a swath of citizens who were frustrated by the criminal abuses of Wall Street, and were waiting for someone to take charge against the big business moguls.
When Warren was not appointed to direct the Bureau, her supporters were disappointed and hoped to see her political expertise put to use elsewhere.
“Those of us who really believed in what she did were pretty disappointed,” Collins said. And then Warren decided to run for Senate, and her supporters remobilized.
But when Warren won the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, becoming the first female senator from Massachusetts, the contributions did not stop. In this year alone she has raised nearly $700,000 through 9,825 individual contributions – all without committing to a second term.
“First it was before her campaign, and then it was during her campaign, and now it’s just keeping her in office,” Collins said of the contributions.
The rest agree – the money flows in simply to ensure Warren will remain their independent voice in a government exploited and influenced by corporate funds, regardless of which state she represents, they said.
“I’m not rich enough or powerful enough to singlehandedly make a difference,” said Bernard Spector, a retired computer programmer and frequent contributor. “But there are many political candidates who I believe are working for the common good and I think such [candidates] deserve support.”