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Who Bankrolls Congress? Harry Reid Edition

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By Josh Israel, Aaron Mehta, Caitlin Ginley, and Claritza Jimenez

A former professional gambler, a taxi company magnate, a telecommunications lobbyist, and a giant tobacco company are among the top lifetime givers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 70, of Nevada, who faces the toughest re-election race of his political career.

Those are the results of the Center for Public Integrity's review of CQ MoneyLine information on Reid's contribution history for campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to his first successful congressional campaign in 1982. The Center's inquiry marks the first in a series of stories on the top donors to Congressional leadership. Future articles will analyze the fundraising records of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner.

In Nevada's rough-and-tumble politics, Reid's top backers include a heavy dose of the Nevada business community, especially in the casino and land development areas, and the telecommunications industry. Those business interests are balanced by sizable support from organized labor and trial lawyers.

That 1982 campaign for the House cost Reid just over $500,000. How times have changed. With a hotly contested re-election battle on the horizon this November, Reid's campaign committee spent more than eight times that amount in 2009 alone.

All told, Reid has raised more than $42 million over nearly three decades, including more than $6.5 million for the federal version of his leadership PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. Representing a swing state like Nevada -- in four of the last five presidential elections the state has been won by a margin of less than four points -- Reid has needed almost every penny. The former middleweight boxer is currently in the political fight of his life, trailing in virtually every public poll when matched up against his likely November opponents.

But he has also earned the appreciation of his Senate Democratic caucus colleagues by spreading his wealth around; he has helped ensure their loyalty and a majority by giving contributions from the Searchlight Leadership Fund or his campaign account to all but one of his 56 caucus colleagues with past or current Senate campaigns. Indeed, the only candidate not to receive a contribution from Reid was millionaire Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who almost entirely self-funds his campaigns.

Of Reid's $42 million-plus in fundraising, more than $25 million came from individuals.