Campaign spending breaks records in midterm election, including in NH

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan’s campaign spent about $36 million to defeat Republican challenger Don Bolduc, contributing to a record nationwide in total spending on a midterm election. FILE PHOTO

Concord Monitor
Published: 11/15/2022 1:55:45 PM

When Lawrence Lessig walked across New Hampshire in January 2014, he had a clear message with his mission to traverse 185 miles in the dead of winter: Campaign finance needs to be reformed, he said at the time, and New Hampshire is the state that can lead that charge.

Lessig, an attorney, author and Harvard professor, focused on the 2016 presidential elections — over the two-week course of his journey, he urged people to ask any candidate who flocks to the Granite State what they would do to end corruption in Washington, D.C.

His walk was a mere jaunt compared with the 1999-2000 effort by New Hampshire’s Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who starting at age 88 walked 3,200 miles over 14 months with the same urgent warning.

Yet, years after “Granny D” and Lessig’s quests, the 2022 midterm elections signaled New Hampshire has not led the way for campaign finance reform. In fact, it has trended in the opposite direction — with the state’s elections contributing to a record-high midterm spending cycle, which nationally exceeded $16 billion.

When Maggie Hassan won her reelection campaign for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, the one-term incumbent had raised $38 million. She’d spent $36 million to defeat her challenger, retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc.

Bolduc on the other hand, had raised a fraction of Hassan’s war chest. He ended the campaign having raised $2.2 million, and spending $1.9 million of it.

But he didn’t need self-directed firepower like Hassan’s. Instead, outside spending buoyed the Bolduc campaign to the same financial level with $30 million funneling into his campaign for both support and opposition advertisements.

The race between Chris Pappas and Karoline Leavitt for the state’s 1st Congressional District was more evenly matched — with Pappas raising $4 million against Leavitt’s $3 million, and the two candidates both spent just almost $1 million less than their earnings.

For outside spending, Leavitt saw $10 million additional dollars in assistance, while groups contributed $9.2 million to Pappas.

This is all to say that the midterm elections held a hefty price tag in New Hampshire this cycle. Across all three federal races, almost $170 million dollars were raised and spent by candidates and outside groups. This excludes third-party candidates, and those who ran in primary contests.

But even with a total budget greater than New Hampshire’s capital city, campaign spending in the Granite State did not crack the surface of other competitive Senate states.

In Pennsylvania — where Democrats flipped a Republican held-seat in John Fetterman’s defeat of Mehmet Oz — spending on the Senate race alone topped $374 million.

“No other midterm election has seen as much money at the state and federal levels as the 2022 elections,” Sheila Krumholz, OpenSecrets’ executive director, said in a press release. “We’re seeing record-breaking totals spent on elections up and down the ballot.”

New Hampshire’s Senate race ranked ninth in the nation for dollars spent. Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio round out the top five most expensive races, with each pulling in over $200 million on Senate campaigns alone.

In Georgia — where money will continue to flow as Raphael Warnock and Hershel Walker head to a December run-off — each candidate spent $100,000 for two 30-second ads to air during a college football game between top-ranked University of Tennessee and the third-ranked University of Georgia.

Warnock also tops the Senate leaderboard in campaign contributions at $98 million to date.

Record spending this midterm cycle follows years of discussions of campaign finance reform.

New Hampshire isn’t new to these conversations, either.

After her famous trek across America, “Granny D” spent her 98th, 99th and 100th birthdays at the New Hampshire Statehouse lobbying for changes to campaign finance.

But years after “Granny D” died in 2010, her message still runs in conflict with the current practices of political spending in the United States. With the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling from the Supreme Court in 2010, spending from independent political expenditures, which includes nonprofit corporations, is not subject to contribution restrictions.

Now, with a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court and an onslaught of decisions over the last 50 years that solidify the message that money equals speech, Dean Spiliotes, a civic scholar and political scientist at Southern New Hampshire University, is not sure when campaign finance reform will materialize.

He also points to the narrow party lines in Congress, which also present a challenge for any legislative efforts, despite the public messaging from activists like “Granny D.”

“You can have a conversation, but if there is no pragmatic or practical way to get reform through it is not going to happen,” he said.

With the lack of campaign finance reform and the growth of political action committees, from congressional leaders to nonprofits, it also means that not only are there more dollars in races, but also moneyed interests that are funding these campaigns.

“One of the biggest challenges is how crowded the playing field has become in local elections in a way that it just wasn’t 25 years ago,” he said. “There are so many players and they are spending millions of dollars, and it makes for a very murky electoral process.”

But with no cemented solution for campaign finance regulations, money in politics will be the standard in each race going forward.

“If you can’t change the courts and you don’t have the legislative majorities, there is not much you can do,” he said. “It feels almost like a structural problem and it is only going to get worse in the foreseeable future. The money is only going to get bigger and bigger.”

Today the records show that the path to winning a race relies on a strategy to outspend the opposition. An Open Secrets Analysis found that the average amount spent by a winning Senate campaign in 2020 was $27 million, a number that was far surpassed by Hassan in the 2022 election.

All data from OpenSecrets.org.


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