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 to McCaskill's 2006 campaign. She received nothing from the PAC of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
And 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 had also befriended Matsui, giving $5,000 to her campaign. Matsui received nothing from Obama's PAC.
Both McCaskill and Matsui are among the nearly 800 superdelegates who'll have a big say in who heads the Democratic ticket this fall. While both women say the PAC contributions didn't influence their choice for president, a study by the Center for Responsive Politics concludes that campaign contributions have become a fairly reliable predictor of whose side a superdelegate will take.
And 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 has. Her PAC distributed $236,100 to superdelegates during the three-year period.
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'd 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. And 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 both 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 of them 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 both Clinton and Obama "will be calling in favors."
While McCaskill received nothing from Clinton's PAC, McCaskill's spokeswoman said that former President Bill Clinton attended a fundraiser for her in Missouri and that Clinton hosted McCaskill for a fundraiser in New York.
"Certainly folks can draw all sorts of false conclusions and assumptions if you look at reports that focus on only one detail or another," said McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh. "The fact of the matter is that while Senator Obama's support was extremely helpful, Senator and President Clinton raised well over $1 million for Claire's Senate campaign in 2006. After looking at the whole picture it's clear that Claire's support of Senator Obama is based on no other motivation than her firm belief that he is the right choice to move our country forward."
Matsui said the Democratic Party is "lucky to have two talented candidates" but added that she has a longer history with Clinton.
"Throughout my 15-year history of working with Senator Clinton, I have seen her exhibit the qualities needed in the next president of the United States," Matsui said. "Based on that longstanding personal and professional relationship, I chose to endorse her as our nominee."
Clinton and Obama have been wooing the more than 400 superdelegates who have yet to endorse a candidate. Since 2005, Obama has given 52 of the undecided superdelegates a total of at least $363,900, the study found, while Clinton has given a total of $88,000 to 15 of them.
According to the latest count by the Associated Press, Obama has 1,406 pledged delegates compared with 1,249 for Clinton. It takes 2,024 delegates to win the party's nomination.
As the campaign kicks into its final phase, the superdelegates are bickering.
This week, 20 top Democratic donors who are supporting Clinton criticized Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California for saying superdelegates should support the presidential candidate with the most pledged delegates.
Pelosi, who hasn't endorsed either candidate as chair of the Democratic National Convention, said during a March 16 appearance on ABC's "This Week" that it would be harmful to the party if superdelegates don't support the pledged-delegate winner.
In their letter to Pelosi, Clinton's supporters said superdelegates "must look to not one criterion but to the full panoply of factors that will help them assess who will be the party's strongest nominee in the general election." The letter also noted that the donors "have been strong supporters" of the House Democrats' fundraising apparatus.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the letter-signers and their spouses have donated $23.6 million to Democrats since 1999, including $554,000 to Clinton's campaigns and PAC. That's 10 times what they contributed to Obama.
ON THE WEB
See a list of the contributions made to superdelegates.