WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans living in predominantly wealthy, white neighborhoods account for nearly all the sizable campaign contributions in this year's presidential election, according to an Associated Press analysis, even as the presidential candidates have aggressively courted Hispanics. Latino voters are widely viewed as pivotal for victories in some battleground states Tuesday.
The disparity in donating particularly affects Latinos. About 16 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, but not even 4 percent of the more than $1.3 billion in 3 million-plus itemized contributions came from mostly Hispanic neighborhoods this year, the AP's analysis showed. More than 90 percent came from majority white neighborhoods.
Hispanics, by at least this important measure of contributing to a candidate whose views they support, are remarkably disengaged in the election yet represent a significant ethnic group for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
"The hardest part is the economic sacrifice," said Roland Garcia, director of the Texas Future Fund, who helped raise money for Obama. "Latino families are busy trying to make ends meet."
Even among the poorest neighborhoods, non-Hispanics contributed far more regularly to the campaigns and the political groups that supported them. The trend similarly holds true for campaign contributions from mostly black, Asian or Native American neighborhoods.
Hispanics, the largest minority bloc, are emerging as a constituency that could determine the presidency, especially in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia. Obama and Romney have heavily courted the Latino vote and devoted time to discuss immigration policy at the town-hall presidential debate in October.
A hotel manager in Laredo, Texas, Raul Perales, said he gave $5,000 to Romney after a lunch with the former Massachusetts governor in San Antonio. Other donors he knows won't stretch their finances for any politician.
"It doesn't suit anyone to give more than they can afford," he said. "That would be nonsense."
The AP analysis did not consider the sources of contributions of $200 or less per person because, under federal law, political groups are not required to disclose any identifying information about such donors, even their names. About 65 percent of donors supporting Obama gave more than $200, compared with 85 percent for Romney.
These donors, including "bundlers" who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, are most likely to receive invitations to lavish donor parties, state dinners at the White House or policy briefings with senior advisers.
Differences in income may contribute to the disparity.
Median household income for Hispanics was $37,759, but for non-Hispanic whites it was $54,620, according to 2010 census figures. Minorities also have unemployment rates above the national average of 8 percent. Some Latino immigrants regularly send money home to their families.
Both parties have made significant efforts to reach out to minority groups. But the AP's analysis confirmed a pattern, first reported in 2004 by researchers at Public Campaign, a Washington-based, nonprofit group that supports election changes: A tiny fraction of contributions worth $200 or more coming from nonwhite communities.
"The most important voice is the vote, and financial contributions come in second," said Arturo Vargas, director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "Not being a major source of financial contributions and not having a tradition of contributing to candidates complicates our development as a political community. Even if the candidates deny it, the reality is that donors are those who enjoy the best access to candidates."
The AP analyzed contributions to candidates' official campaigns, their political parties and "super" political committees that support them. Federal data do not include demographic information about donors, so the AP mapped donor addresses with demographic data for each census block. That's the smallest geographic area that the federal government measures, roughly the size of a neighborhood. That helped identify what donors were most likely to be Hispanic.
Donations from majority Hispanic neighborhoods account for only 3.5 percent of itemized donations through mid-October. That correlates with about 2.7 percent from majority black neighborhoods and less than 1 percent from Asian communities.
The gap is even greater among neighborhoods with fewer whites. About 2 percent, or $26 million, of the contributions came from neighborhoods in which 75 percent of residents identified themselves in the 2010 census as Hispanic.