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The Campaign Finance Power Behind Trump Impeachment Efforts

June 13, 2019, 2:11 PM UTC

House Democrats remain split on whether to impeach President Donald Trump.

But those who support impeachment highlight a wide cross section of House Democrats. They also have a diverse pool of campaign backers who may help protect them from any donor backlash if impeachment becomes an issue that affects campaign contributions.

Some 59 House Democrats support impeachment proceedings, according to a running tally by The New York Times. Another 66 Democrats say they do not currently support impeachment proceedings or they are undecided, and the remaining 110 have not yet taken a public stance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not committed to pursuing impeachment, reportedly saying she’d rather see Trump defeated in the 2020 presidential race and face prosecution at that time.

Pelosi has also pointed out that even if the Democratic-controlled House votes to charge Trump with impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate appears unlikely to convict him by a two-thirds vote and trigger his removal from office. She’s raised concerns about how that would play in the 2020 elections.

In addition to the battle for the White House, all of the current House members are up for reelection in 2020.

Past behavior indicates Trump could make a point of singling out any members of Congress who are calling for his impeachment. Trump has a tendency of taking to social media site Twitter and name-calling his critics. Among the recent additions to that list is Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who is so far the only House Republican to support impeachment proceedings. Trump went after Amash on Twitter, calling the five-term congressman a “loser.”

Amash also faced backlash from a slew of big Republican donors for his position.

But one campaign finance trend that marked the 2018 midterms was the influx of small donors. Small donations reached more than $1 billion in the cycle, an increase from $641 million in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks campaign finance data. Money from small donors helped Democrats outraise Republicans in House races by $300 million, CRP found.

Democrats took seven spots on the top 10 list of candidates who successfully campaigned for House seats in 2018 when ranked by how much of their campaign funds came from contributions of less than $200, according to a CRP analysis. Leading the list was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who received nearly 62% of her $2 million fundraising from small donors.

House Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, who’ve called for Trump’s impeachment, could be bolstered by this base of diverse donors.

“The diversification of ways that candidates are getting money is going to give them the freedom to take stances that aren’t necessarily in line with the party line,” says Sarah Bryner, research director at CRP. “That has to do with the weakening of the parties overall and the sort of protectiveness of knowing that you can campaign with small donor donations and don’t need support from traditional PACs, which a lot of candidates have rejected anyway, or from party elite.”

Beyond the growing role of small donors, an analysis of CRP data on the top five contributors in the 2017-2018 cycle for each of the House Democrats calling for impeachment shows backing from a wide range of business and labor interests.

There’s no indication any of the donations are tied to lawmakers’ stances on impeaching Trump, since the data is for the 2017-2018 cycle, but it shows the range of backing these candidates had in the most recent completed election cycle.

The top contributor lists include donations from an organization’s PACs and individuals affiliated with the group, such as employees or owners. Based on those tallies, the contributor that appeared most frequently in the lists of top five donors to House Democrats calling for impeachment was the PAC of American Crystal Sugar, a Minnesota-based agricultural cooperative of sugar beet growers. The PAC was among the top donors to 14 of the 59 House Democrats calling for impeachment.

The PAC of the American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers group with more than 50,000 members, also appeared a dozen times in the lists of top donors. Contributions from PACs and individuals affiliated with several labor groups, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Carpenters & Joiners Union, each ranked among the groups of top contributors for at least five members, too.

Contributions from PACs and individuals affiliated with several major corporations showed up in the lists, as well, including defense contractor Northrop Grumman and telecommunications giants Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc.

It’s unclear whether supporting impeachment will be an issue that drives away any previous donors for House Democrats.

Democrats seeking impeachment currently do so without support from the majority of the American public. Around 22% of Americans want impeachment proceedings to begin, and 25% say they want the investigation to continue into Trump’s potential wrongdoing, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The subject of impeachment has increasingly been in the spotlight following the release of a redacted report from then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller in April and the Trump administration’s subsequent fight with House Democrats over requests for documents related to Mueller’s investigation.

Impeachment talk gained further momentum after a press conference last month in which Mueller said that if the Department of Justice “had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” The percentage of the American public supporting impeachment rose in polls following that press conference.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—House Democrats have a decision to make—impeach Trump or not?

—Was Robert Mueller’s statement an impeachment referral?

Pelosi says Trump is becoming ‘self-impeachable’

—The story behind the Baby Trump balloon

—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

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