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Originally published Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Election 2008

Superdelegate loyalty linked to donations?

When Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, she said she'd found a candidate who "gives us a reason to believe...

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — When Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, she said she'd found a candidate who "gives us a reason to believe again."

Obama believed in her, too, donating $10,000 from his political-action committee (PAC) to McCaskill's 2006 campaign. She received nothing from the PAC of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

When California Rep. Doris Matsui endorsed Clinton, she said the former first lady had been "a consistent champion and friend" of Asian Americans. Clinton's PAC also had befriended Matsui, giving $5,000 to her campaign. Matsui received nothing from Obama's PAC.

McCaskill and Matsui are among the nearly 800 superdelegates who will have a big say in who heads the Democratic ticket this fall. While both women said the PAC contributions didn't influence their choice for president, a study by the Center for Responsive Politics concluded that campaign contributions have become a fairly reliable predictor of whose side a superdelegate will take.

If that's the case, it's good news for Obama. Since 2005, his PAC has donated $710,900 to superdelegates, more than three times as much as Clinton's PAC. Her PAC distributed $236,100 to superdelegates during the same time.

The study found that the presidential candidate who gave more money to the superdelegates received their endorsements 82 percent of the time. That's based on a review of elected officials who are serving as superdelegates and who had endorsed a candidate as of Feb. 25.

In cases where superdelegates received money from Obama's Hope Fund but none from Clinton's PAC, Obama got the superdelegates' support 85 percent of the time. In cases where superdelegates received money from Clinton's HillPac but none from Obama's PAC, 75 percent backed Clinton.

Some superdelegates, such as Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, received $10,000 from Obama and Clinton. Neither senator has endorsed a presidential candidate.

The superdelegates include nearly 800 members of Congress, governors and Democratic Party leaders who could be the tiebreakers in the close race between Clinton and Obama. The study noted that many are the candidates' friends, colleagues or financial beneficiaries who have much closer ties to the candidates than regular delegates.

"And while it would be unseemly for the candidates to hand out thousands of dollars to primary voters, or to the delegates pledged to represent the will of those voters, elected officials who are superdelegates have received at least $904,200 from Obama and Clinton in the form of campaign contributions over the last three years," the study said, adding that Clinton and Obama "will be calling in favors."

According to the latest count by The Associated Press, Obama has 1,623 delegates, 1,406 of them pledged, compared with 1,499 for Clinton, 1,249 of them pledged. It takes 2,024 delegates to win the party's nomination.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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