This month’s elections serve as a sign of what’s to come in the 2022 midterm races: Millions of dollars pouring into state contests from out-of-state (and, in some cases, out-of-country) donors and others with special interests. From the governor’s race in Virginia to school board races in Pennsylvania, campaign price tags continue to balloon as wealthy donors and PACs use money to fund negative campaigns that distract from policy discussions and drown out the voices of American citizens.
Here, we provide a look at how campaign finance influenced some 2021 elections and where big-dollar donors already are doubling down as they prepare for the 2022 campaigns.
2021 Gubernatorial Election
The 2021 Virginia governor’s race saw over $100 million raised by the candidates alone, as reported by Open Secrets, with millions more spent by outside groups.
Republican challenger and election winner Glenn Youngkin raised over $57.6 million, with more than $10.7 million coming from the national Republican Governors Association. Additionally, Youngkin loaned his own campaign more than $21 million.
Democratic incumbent Terry McAuliffe raised over $57.3 million, with more than $13.5 million of that coming from the national Democratic Governors Association Action. Additionally, McAuliffe received more than $6 million from labor union groups, over $870,000 from Michael Bloomberg-founded Everytown for Gun Safety, and $500,000 from national Democratic group Priorities USA Action.
Outside groups spent more than $2.8 million opposing McAuliffe and another $1.65 million supporting Youngkin, for a total of almost $4.5 million in support of the Republican challenger. The largest outside supporter of Youngkin was Restoration PAC, a national Republican Super PAC that spent over $1.9 million on attacking McAuliffe. Less than 14% of Restoration PAC’s reported donations in 2021 came from Virginia.
2021 Question 1
Millions of dollars were spent in Maine over the issue of Ballot Measure 1, almost none of it from Maine. Instead, a lack of reasonable campaign finance restrictions made Maine a battleground between the world’s largest energy company and a company wholly owned by the foreign government of Quebec.
Support for Measure 1 was primarily funded by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, the world’s largest energy company. Opposition to the measure was primarily funded by Avangrid, a Connecticut-based power company owned by a Spanish power company, and Hydro-Quebec, a power company wholly owned by the government of Quebec.
On Nov. 2, 2021, Maine voters approved Question 1, a citizen-initiated measure designed to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine.
2021 School Board Elections
Paul Martino, a venture capitalist and prolific Republican donor, gave $500,000 to fund 50 local PACs to support Republican candidates for school board in Pennsylvania, an unprecedented amount of money for local elections that usually cost “anywhere from a few hundred dollars to up to $10,000 to run.”
Statewide and national Democratic groups also became involved in school board races, with the national Working Families Party backing York County candidates in races against candidates funded by Martino. The national Democratic Party has included school board races in their turnout operation.
Candidates said these typically low-key school board elections became toxic and divisive due to the influence of money and well-funded advertising. After the election, Martino said candidates backed by his PAC won 72% of their races.
2022 U.S. Senate Election
Candidates for the 2022 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania are amassing millions of dollars for what are likely to be contentious primary and general elections. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, leads in fundraising with more than $9.2 million gathered in 2021. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) has raised over $2.6 million, partially from funds raised for his House campaign before announcing he would run for Senate.
Republican author Sean Parnell, who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, has raised over $1.6 million. Republican businessman Jeff Bartos has raised over $2.8 million, including loaning over $1.2 million to his own campaign. The Bartos-linked Jobs for Our Future PAC has received a commitment of $1.5 million from Scott Wagner, a businessman and former Republican State Senator for Pennsylvania.
2022 U.S. Senate Election
His seat is drawing interest from other potential candidates who are doing their own fundraising, including three Democrats who have raised more than $1 million. They include Alex Lasry, senior VP of the Milwaukee Bucks and son of billionaire hedge fund manager and Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, with more than $3 million. Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski has raised over $1.8 million, including a personal loan of $685,000, and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has raised over $1.3 million.
2022 U.S. Senate Election
In 2022, Alaska will use an open primary system, in which candidates of all parties will compete in a single primary election, and the top four candidates from that primary will move on to the general election. This could lead to multiple contentious elections in the same year.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, has not formally announced that she will run for re-election, but that has not stopped her from raising over $4.5 million for her campaign, with the majority of that money coming from outside Alaska and in donations of over $2,000.
Kelly Tshibaka, the former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration who has been endorsed by the Alaskan Republican party and President Donald Trump, has announced her candidacy and already raised over $1.2 million. No Democrats have entered the race yet, but Al Gross, the Independent candidate in 2020 who raised almost $20 million with significant help from the Democratic Party fundraising machine, has said he is “certainly considering” a run in 2022.
2022 Mega Donors
Super PACs are already ramping up their fundraising as they prepare for the 2022 elections. As Open Secrets reports, 22 groups have received more than 40% of their funding from a single individual or couple, and those groups have received over $50 million from just 17 individuals.
The largest donor is billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, who has given $10 million to two Republican Super PACs supporting Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance for Senate in Ohio and Blake Masters for Senate in Arizona. Masters serves as the COO of Thiel Capital and the president of the Thiel Foundation, and has co-authored a book with Thiel. Vance’s venture capital firm, Narya Capital, received an investment from Thiel.
Billionaire Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, has funded 92% of the donations to conservative Super PAC Opportunity Matters Fund, with a $5 million donation. Money manager Jeffrey Yass has already given $5 million to the Kentucky Freedom PAC, supporting U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.