• MapLight

New MapLight Report Finds Oakland Elections Dominated by Big Donors and Outside Money


Downtown Oakland, California. Photo by Ronan Furuta via Unsplash.


Money in politics influences who runs for office, who they talk to, who wins, and what policies get enacted — at every level of government. In a new report, MapLight dives into the details of campaign funding in Oakland, California to reveal the sources of candidate fundraising, where donors live, the size of contributions, and the demographics of who donates to campaigns. Our analysis shows that wealthy donors and outside spending have played a significant role in Oakland elections. Click here to read the full report: Campaign Cash: The Outsized Role of Money in Oakland Elections Among many key findings, our report reveals:

  • Money in Oakland candidate elections rose to its highest level in eight years during the 2020 election. Fundraising by candidates peaked in 2014 at $3.5 million. However, after including outside spending, total money in Oakland elections hit an eight-year high in 2020 with $2.4 million in independent expenditures on top of the $2.6 million in direct fundraising.

  • Money made a difference. During the last four elections, 77 percent of the contested races (24 of 31) were won by the candidate who raised the most money.

  • Just half of all fundraising by candidates came from Oakland residents. Even after including donations from candidates to their own campaigns and public funds, city residents provided just half of the funds received.

  • Special interests were a substantial part of candidates’ fundraising. Contributions from corporations, nonprofits, unions, trade associations, and political committees comprised 13 percent of all candidates’ funding and 17 percent of the winning candidates’ funding.

  • Campaign contributions came disproportionately from Oakland's richest and whitest neighborhoods. The three majority-white zip codes in Oakland were responsible for 45 percent of the contributions from Oakland residents, while comprising just 21 percent of the city’s population. Residents of the Oakland zip codes with a median household income greater than $75,000 were responsible for 66 percent of the contributions in Oakland while comprising only 40 percent of the population.

  • Less affluent and less white neighborhoods were underrepresented in campaign contributions. A quarter of the money raised from Oakland residents came from the six Oakland zip codes with a median household income below $60,000, while nearly half of Oakland residents live in these neighborhoods. The four Oakland zip codes with less than 25 percent white residents were responsible for 16 percent of the money from Oakland donors while containing 40 percent of Oakland’s population.

  • Nearly half of all fundraising in the four candidate elections came from high-dollar donors. People giving $500 or more, including candidates contributing to their own campaigns, contributed 45 percent of all funds taken in by candidates’ campaigns.

  • Small donors comprised a tiny portion of candidate funding. Donors giving less than $100 provided just 6 percent of all candidate funding.

  • Easy victories still attracted large donors. During her reelection bid, Mayor Schaaf, who received more than twice as many votes as her nearest competitor, received $501,000, almost equaling the $504,000 she received during her 2014 election.

  • Eight organizations and individuals gave at least $75,000 apiece to independent groups seeking to influence candidate elections over the last eight years – accounting for nearly half of outside money during that time. These spenders included Michael Bloomberg ($920,000), Lyft ($439,000), East Bay Working Families ($141,000), Quinn Delaney ($120,000), T. Gary Rogers ($100,000), Arthur Rock ($99,000), the East Bay Community Foundation ($80,000), and the San Francisco Foundation ($75,000).

To learn more, read the full report here.