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Election 2014: Boxer, Feinstein funding Senate races around the country

Senator Barbara Boxer (L) celebrates with Senator Dianne Feinstein (R) after winning a fourth term, in the Democratic Party headquarters at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood on November 2, 2010.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Senator Barbara Boxer (L) celebrates with Senator Dianne Feinstein (R) after winning a fourth term, in the Democratic Party headquarters at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood on November 2, 2010.

Neither of California's U.S. senators are on the November ballot this year, but that doesn't mean they're sitting out the November election. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer together have contributed nearly half a million dollars to Senate races nationwide.

Consider North Carolina, where incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is facing Republican businessman/legislator Thom Tillis in a race that Real Clear Politics has dubbed a "toss-up." Rasmussen Reports puts Hagan ahead by a mere 2 percent.

Barbara Boxer's political action committee, PAC for a Change, gave Hagan's campaign $5,000; Dianne Feinstein's PAC, Fund for the Majority, kicked in $5,000 last year and another $5,000 this year.

So why are California politicos fundraising for a Senate campaign three thousand miles away?

Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, says senators are expected to be big-time campaign contributors to other lawmakers in their party, "especially if you have the ability to raise a lot of money and you're not in a tight race yourself."

According to the Federal Election Commission reports, Feinstein and Boxer's PACs — plus Boxer's campaign committee — have contributed $483,000 to Senate candidates like Kay Hagen, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the Senate Majority PAC, even the DSCC Recount Fund.

Novak says it doesn't hurt that Boxer and Feinstein hail from the very blue state of California. "There's obviously a lot of money there."

In a sit down interview last month with California reporters, Boxer admitted that the money part of politics is "so difficult" these days. But she added, you can "sit back and say this is terrible" or you can get out there and raise money.

Norm Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute calls Feinstein and Boxer "rock stars in the Democratic Party." This year in particular, he says, the pressure's on Senate Democrats to raise money for their most vulnerable colleagues when the majority of the Senate is at stake.

The latest Fox News polls released Wednesday night shows several key Senate races tilting Republican. Real Clear Politics says the GOP only needs to grab six seats to take control of the Senate and scores nine races as toss-ups. 

Whichever party controls Congress sets the agenda for legislation. They also set the public relations agenda, says Marc Sandalow, Associate Academic Director of the University of California's Washington Center.

For example, Sandalow says Boxer may not be able to pass global warming legislation, but as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, she can "bring Al Gore to testify, can put bills out to force Republicans to take a position."

If the GOP regains control of the Senate, Boxer becomes ranking member and the chairmanship passes to Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma "who doesn't believe in global warming."

Feinstein heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, but she's also chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. Sandalow says a ranking member may have a harder time cobbling together a drought agreement or attracting federal dollars to California water projects if she's in the minority.

There's one other way losing the majority could affect California's political future: it also might affect whether or not California's Senators run for re-election. Dianne Feinstein doesn't have to make that decision for another four years. Barbara Boxer is on the ballot in 2016.

She told reporters last month she still thinks Democrats can hold onto the Senate.  If not, it's nothing she hasn't seen before: she spent half her political life in Washington serving in the minority.

The 73-year-old Senator says she'll decide next year whether to run for a fifth term.

Data: A look at contributions from Boxer, Feinstein's PACs

The figures below were totaled from Federal Election Commission filings from the past two years and include Feinstein's "Fund For The Majority PAC," Boxer's "PAC For A Change" and the "Friends of Barbara Boxer" fund.  

In addition to the donations listed below, FEC records show the pair have contributed $90,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), $15,000 to the DSCC's Recount Fund, $50,000 to the Senate Majority PAC and $1,125 to the California Democratic Party.