State Secrets, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics, gave an early report of their efforts to track soft money in the states.
The project, partially funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org, found state political parties collected more than $600 million during the 2000 election cycle. Soft money contributions, unlike standard campaign contributions, are unlimited and unregulated in 28 states.
Florida and California rounded out the top three, with Democratic and Republican Party committees taking in $53 million and $43 million respectively.
Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said soft money donations have become an essential part of influence buying in the U.S. Capitol, statehouses and even city halls.
"Donors now view soft money contributions as nothing short of necessary to play the influence game," Noble said.
The study found the securities and investment industry alone has pumped nearly $40 million in soft money into state political parties. Real estate developers, brokers and agents contributed $28.1 million.
The study noted that even if House passes one of two competing campaign finance bills limiting or eliminating soft money contributions by the national political parties, state rules would still allow the free flow of cash to state committees.
The organizations plan to continue studying how soft money is used, who specifically is giving it and whether state and national political parties are transferring soft money to each other to skirt state limits. They expect to release their findings next March.
Top 5 states for contributions to political party committees (in millions):
Bottom 5 states for soft money contributions to political parties
46. Wisconsin $734,785
47. Hawaii $610,669
48. West Virginia $497,068
49. New Hampshire $367,641
50. Rhode Island $245,640