Wealthy candidates pour millions into 2022 campaigns

In Ohio alone, four self-funded candidates have already combined to contribute nearly $30 million to their U.S. Senate campaigns.

Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland-based businessman who made his fortune in real estate and investment banking, has loaned more than $11 million to his campaign. Matt Dolan, a state senator whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, directly contributed about $8 million to his campaign and loaned him another $2.5 million.

Bernie Moreno, a car dealer turned technical director, loaned his campaign about $3.75 million before he suspended his offer this month. And former GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, whose family owns a Canton-based steel company, loaned her campaign about $3.5 million.

The flood of money produced a deluge of publicity in Ohio’s competitive Republican Senate primary. By the second week of February, voters in Buckeye State had already seen more than $15 million worth of television ads. Nearly another $10 million has been reserved until the date of the primary, still months away on May 3.

And Ohio isn’t the only state where self-funded candidates are influencing major Senate primaries.

In Arizona, Republican Jim Lamon, whose energy company was bought by Koch Industries last year, loaned his campaign $8 million. In Pennsylvania, famed doctor Mehmet Oz has already loaned his campaign for the GOP nomination more than $5 million. As in Ohio, millions of TV ads have already aired in both states, largely thanks to the spending of these self-funded candidates.

Self-financing in 2022 is not a strictly partisan phenomenon. In Wisconsin, Democratic Senate hopeful Alex Lasry, whose family owns the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise, loaned his campaign nearly $2.4 million. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who is also seeking the green light from the Wisconsin Democratic Senate, has invested nearly $1.8 million in her bid.

Other candidates have looked to outside spending and wealthy benefactors to keep pace. JD Vance, a bestselling author who is also running for the Republican Senate nomination from Ohio, loaned his campaign just $100,000. But a super PAC supporting his candidacy, Protect Ohio Values, received more than $10 million last year from GOP megadonor Peter Thiel.
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Several House candidates have contributed large sums to their campaigns this election cycle. In Florida, Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a home health care executive who won a special election for the 20th congressional district last month, has loaned her campaign nearly $6 million (and repaid about $2 million of that total.) Cody Reynolds, a Democratic candidate for Oregon’s 6th district, said he loaned his campaign $2 million. And Elijah Norton, a Republican who is issuing a primary challenge to incumbent Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona, has also loaned his campaign about $2 million.

Advertising advantage

The ability to pour millions directly into one’s own campaign is a significant advantage for these self-funded candidates. Candidates’ campaigns enjoy preferential television advertising rates over outside groups like super PACs, which means the money goes further when it comes from a campaign than an outside group.

“While money doesn’t buy results, it certainly buys ads, and the primary consumer of those ads doesn’t know who is paying for the ad,” said Sarah Bryner, strategist at watchdog group OpenSecrets.

The proliferation of self-financiers can hurt lesser-known candidates who aren’t independently wealthy, Bryner added. While these self-financiers may not win their respective contests, they can blunt the momentum of their rivals early on by crowding out the field.

Self-funded candidates also argue that their wealth gives them political independence and that they are not dependent on special interests or mega-donors who could influence their positions. Former President Donald Trump made this argument central to his campaign for the presidential primary in 2015.

“I use my own money. I don’t use lobbyists. I don’t use donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich,” the former president said when he announced his candidacy for the White House. Trump ultimately contributed or loaned more than $66 million to his 2016 campaign, but contributed nothing to his 2020 re-election coffers.

Some resounding failures

Although self-funded campaigns enjoy considerable benefits, they have had a mixed record at the ballot box. Michael Bloomberg has spent more than $1 billion on his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, spanning the national airwaves with advertising. But he failed to win a single state nominating contest. One of his opponents in this race, billionaire Tom Steyer, spent around $350 million, for similar results.

“They come in. They make a splash, buy a lot of publicity. It’s all paid for with their own money. And that doesn’t really change the needle with the polls,” Bryner said.

Most recently, Georgia GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler loaned $23 million to her 2020 campaign, but she was ultimately defeated in a special election runoff by Democrat Raphael Warnock’s grassroots-funded effort.

Whether self-financiers win or lose, their ability to pump money into elections can have detrimental effects on less wealthy candidates – crowding out candidates, increasing advertising costs and raising the barrier to entry for those who lack millions of dollars to spend on politics. .

But Democrat Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor who is also running for the Senate, said he doesn’t see self-funders as a threat because his large grassroots coalition has helped him raise a significant amount of donations. small dollars – campaign finance reports show he has raised $972,000 in donations under $200 through Dec. 31. Barnes said the average donation to his campaign was about $46 out of nearly 50,000 individual donations, many of them teachers.

“Our small donors across the state more than make up for the fact that I can’t afford to self-fund this race,” he said.

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