MANHATTAN — On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, a dozen men and women gathered in the second-floor living room of a modern townhouse at the edge of Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood for a fireside chat with an up-and-coming politician they hope will soon be mayor.
But the politician, whose frank discussions and hearty laugh earned rave reviews — and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions — isn’t running for office in Texas. She’s Christine Quinn, New York’s City Council speaker, one of the Democratic hopefuls to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2014.
While most New Yorkers can’t even name many of the candidates jockeying to become the city’s next mayor, supporters from California to Tennessee are already busy writing them checks more than a year and a half before the race.
So far, the five top presumptive mayoral candidates have raised more than $1.8 million from contributors who live out of state, a DNAinfo analysis of the latest campaign finance records found.
That’s about 15 percent of the nearly $12 million these candidates have amassed. The figures do not include a small percentage of incomplete records that did not list the contributor's home state.
Quinn, who has raised the most cash, has also generated the most from out-of-state supporters. She's banked $790,000 — 16 percent of her total war chest — from donors outside of New York, DNAinfo's analysis found.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Comptroller John Liu and former comptroller Bill Thompson raised between 12 percent and 20 percent of their totals from outside the state. Of these men, Thompson had the biggest percentage of out-of-state donations.
It's nothing new for candidates to pump their coffers full of out-of-state cash. It’s legal, as long as the donation comes from a U.S. citizen. And it's not uncommon for candidates for city office to hold fundraising events out of town, New York City Campaign Finance Board spokeswoman Bonny Tsang said.
Officials with nearly all the campaigns said the strong out-of-town fundraising is a sign of their candidates' strength.
But there is one advantage to raising cash at home: The city has one of the most generous public matching programs in the country, with $6 of free public money granted for every $1 a candidate raises from New York City residents, up to maximum of $1,050 in matching grants per donor.
"We encourage candidates to raise money from New Yorkers," Tsang said.
Still, many candidates are looking afar.
Much of the out-of-state money raised by the candidates has come from the tri-state area —with New Jersey at the top of the list. But California and Florida have also been fertile fundraising grounds. Quinn has also been successful in Pennsylvania, while Liu has a following in Maryland, with support in Alabama and Kentucky, too.
Many of the faraway donors have deep connections to the Big Apple. Some were raised here and others worked in New York before moving away. Others said in interviews that while they never lived in the city, they feel they have a stake in what happens here because of New York's power to impact the nation.
Most said they rarely contribute to candidates they can't vote for on Election Day.
Houston’s Tripp Carter, 51, who helped plan Quinn’s Dec. 2 fundraising event, said he met the Democrat after she spoke last year at a political brunch in Texas, and has been a staunch supporter ever since.
"I was very impressed with her,” said Carter, 51, who runs a funeral home. “She’s very approachable. She’s just really open and easy to talk to."
When he heard she was coming to town last month, he decided to throw the last-minute fundraiser, where Quinn talked about the problems facing both cities and the challenges of balancing business interests with those in need, he said.
"They were all extremely impressed with her and decided to contribute to help her campaign," Carter said of his fellow Texans.
"Whatever happens in New York trickles down to the rest of the country," he said, pointing to the financial markets and the art and fashion world. "Whatever happens in New York City affects all of us."
David Arpin, another long-time Houston resident who has helped organize several fundraising events on Quinn’s behalf, said her work as an advocate for the gay community — and the possibility that New York could elect it's first openly gay mayor — has also helped to attract attention nationwide.
"We have a very strong contingent of LGBT donors here. And we think that Christine is going to make a great mayor and a great role model and leader for the LGBT community," said Arpin, 56, who sits on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization dedicated to elect LGBT leaders that donated $1,000 to Quinn's campaign.
Others, like Jeremy Drucker, who now lives in St. Paul, Minn., have personal relationships with the candidates. Drucker worked for Thompson’s last mayoral campaign after working for a City Council member and said he has deep respect for the former comptroller.
“I was really impressed by [Thompson's] character and the way in which he approached working at the issues facing New Yorkers. I thought he was very pragmatic,” said Drucker, 33, who donated $25 to Thompson last July.
“I would not normally get involved in a local election that was not in my locality," he said. "New York is my one-time exception. And that's because of my history in the city and because I might return at any time.”
For others, it seemed the donations weren't really about politics.
The $20 Chicago's Marilyn Quiroz, 70, gave to Thompson last July was really a gift for her son, who lives in New York and has worked in the White House.
"'Ma this,' 'Ma that.' It’s like a broken record! Whatever he says I go ahead with," she joked, adding that she wasn't exactly sure what office Thompson is running for.
"Is it governor or is it mayor?" she asked.