In a year when presidential campaigns shatter fundraising records, local races hold their own. The race between Bill Foster and Jim Oberweis for Illinois’s 14th Congressional District seat, in fact, stood as the most expensive House race in the country, with $8,572,403 raised, as of the latest filing. Mark Kirk’s challenge from Dan Seals in the 10th came in at $5,933,647, fourth highest nationwide. Melissa Bean and Steve Greenberg in the 8th were over $3.4 million. Federal Election Commission reports through June show that although these races are local, many of the itemized individual contributions (i.e., funds not from parties, PACs, or the candidates themselves) are not.

Foster, a physicist who defeated Oberweis to win the seat of the former House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a special election in March, had raised more than 51 percent of his itemized individual contributions—about $591,000—from outside Illinois, much of it from scientists and professors at Harvard and MIT. Bean had raised more than 36 percent of her itemized individual contributions—$423,927—from outside the state, using the donor rolls from her last two hotly contested elections.

Why the influx of alien money? Often because the national party directs it. "An individual in New York doesn’t wake up one day and choose an obscure candidate in Illinois they want to send money to," says Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a 1992 and 1994 Democratic primary congressional candidate. "Parties pour money into certain candidates to try to get stronger control over Congress." Committee support from the national party goes to candidates who have strong qualifications, an ability to raise money, effective staff, and a winnable seat in a tight race. (Another seat drawing attention from the parties: the 11th District seat vacated by the retiring Jerry Weller, sought by Democrat Debbie Halvorson and Republican Martin Ozinga.)

There’s a positive note to out-of-state donations. "Outside of your district, giving is based even more on principle rather than a tangible favor," says Tari Renner, an Illinois Wesleyan University political science professor who ran against Weller for Congress in 2004. "No one will give you a nickel if they don’t agree with your ideology."

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In U.S. House races in and around Chicago, Democrats are getting more out-of-state money than Republicans. As a percentage of itemized individual contributions, averages for Democrats are about 30 percent from out of state, compared with the Republicans’ 15 percent. Here’s how some of the hot races break down, for donations collected between January 2007 and June 2008.

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In the country’s most expensive House race, the candidates put their money where their mouths are. 14th District donations, by source:

Source: Federal Election Commission reports, January 2007 through June 2008

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The Democrats’ edge in out-of-state funds may owe something to Barack Obama. "The Democratic base is more energized, and the congressional candidates are probably riding the coattails of Barack Obama," says Tari Renner of Illinois Wesleyan University. (For more on the Obama effect, click here.)