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Analyzing Contributions in the Proper Context

Prior to the local headlines being dominated in recent weeks by Scott Brown's support for the far-right-wing Blunt Amendment, a series of articles looked into the geographic fundraising sources of Republican Senator Scott Brown and Brown's leading Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. The numbers may have been interesting but the articles offered a very inaccurate narrative.

During the final fundraising quarter of 2011, Brown, the Boston Globe found, raised about one-third of his campaign funds from out-of-state, compared with about 60% for Warren's three-month take. The narrative of the analysis seemed designed to make us question whether she is really "one of us" since she raised a significant portion of her funds from out-of-state during those three months.

However, if one was to put this fundraising analysis in the proper context, one would compare Warren's out-of-state fundraising to Brown's out-of-state fundraising not over the last three months of 2011, when he was an incumbent U.S. Senator, but rather during the special election cycle of 2009-2010 when, like Warren now, he was making his first bid for U.S. Senate in a race garnering national headlines.

When that more accurate comparison is made in the proper context, we see that 60% of Scott Brown's 2010-cycle campaign donations came from out-of-state donors, a percentage virtually identical to that of current first-time candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren.

Perhaps the more interesting story is that first-time candidates for federal office often rely on resources from out-of-district, or out-of-state, to mount competitive campaigns.  That said, if the goal is to make accurate comparisons, the analysis should compare apples to other first-time-candidate apples, rather than incumbent oranges.  The inevitable early-April news stories about the candidates' January-to-March fundraising totals ought to take this context into account for maximum accuracy.

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