By Taylor Giorno
October 14, 2022 Open Secrets
Outside groups have poured more than $1.3 billion into the 2022 federal midterm elections, surpassing the nominal – not adjusted for inflation – 2018 midterm election record with 25 days left until the Nov. 8 general election.
Outside spending has sharply trended upward each election cycle following the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010. Super PACs, political committees that can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and individuals but are prohibited from coordinating with parties or candidates, make up the overwhelming majority of outside spending.
The 2018 election was the first midterm cycle in which federal outside spending surpassed $1 billion. Outside spending on U.S. House and Senate races surpassed $2.2 billion during the 2020 election cycle.
It is not out of the question for federal outside spending on 2022 midterm elections to exceed the current record set during the 2020 election cycle.
Democrats are slightly favored to keep control of the U.S. Senate, FiveThirtyEight projects, while Republicans are slightly favored to retake the U.S. House. But Republicans only need to flip one U.S. Senate seat to regain control of the chamber.
Senate races in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are currently toss-ups, according to the Cook Political Report. All four races are in the top 5 most expensive this election cycle, targeted by outside groups that seek to sway voters for or against their preferred candidates.
Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.), has poured more money into the 2022 midterm elections than any other outside group this election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.
“Many of these general election campaigns have been woefully underfunded, not because of the NRSC, but because of the candidates’ campaigns themselves,” McConnell told CNN. “And we certainly – SLF has certainly – carried the lion’s share of load.”
Of the $149.6 million Senate Leadership Fund spent through Oct. 14, the super PAC spent $139.3 million opposing Democratic Senate nominees in battleground states. In addition to the four toss-ups, the Senate Leadership Fund has invested tens of millions of dollars in North Carolina and Ohio, which lean Republican, and New Hampshire, which leans Democrat.
Senate Majority PAC has dropped $88 million on midterm election races, making it the third largest outside spender behind the Senate Leadership Fund and Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leadership dedicated to electing GOP members to the U.S. House. The super PAC – aligned with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) – has also targeted candidates in toss-up races.
Senate Majority PAC spent $16.6 million opposing incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and $12.8 million against GOP nominee and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt in Nevada. But the super PAC has spent the most money opposing Mehmet Oz, former host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and the GOP nominee in Pennsylvania.
Senate Majority PAC has spent $17.8 million opposing Oz, including a $4.6 million ad buy Tuesday – the most money spent on a single day in a single race this election cycle, according to OpenSecrets data.
Pennsylvania’s Senate contest is by far the most expensive race this election cycle, attracting more than $130.6 million in outside spending during both the primary and general election seasons. Outside groups poured nearly $38.1 million into the state’s U.S. Senate primaries, and the general election contest between Oz and the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, has attracted over $98.5 million in outside spending from the May 17 primary through Oct. 14.
Outside groups overwhelmingly poured money against Democrats or Republicans into these battleground races.
The U.S. Senate race in Georgia between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D–Ga.) and GOP nominee Herschel Walker is the only other race to break $100 million in total outside spending so far this election cycle. A firestorm of controversy over allegations by the Daily Beast that Walker, who opposesabortion with no exception for rape or incest and has publicly admonished absent fathers, paid for an abortion in 2009 and has not seen his youngest child since 2016.
While the Senate primary in the Peach State did not crack the top 10 most expensive congressional primaries in terms of outside spending, outside groups have poured nearly $87 million into the general election. The top spenders in the race are Senate Leadership Fund and Georgia Honor, which is funded by the Senate Majority PAC.
Republicans have backed Walker despite recent scandals. Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and has called abortion “abhorrent,” accused Democrats of seeking to “lie and cheat and smear” their way to victory in a statement released the day the Daily Beast broke the abortion story. Scott and Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) travelled to Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for Walker.
Prominent GOP figures from former President Donald Trump to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) also lept to Walker’s defense, the Guardian reported.
Senate Leadership Fund dropped a $3.8 million ad buy against Warnock the day after the abortion story broke. MAGA Inc., a Trump-aligned super PAC, also purchased $750,000 worth of ads against Warnock – effectively boosting Walker – in the wake of the story, POLITICO reported. Forbes also foundthat an anti-abortion super PAC, Women Speak Out PAC, spent $165,000 to against Warnock and supporting Walker in the four days following the allegations.
A singular focus on flipping the U.S. Senate helps explain Republicans’ unwavering support for Walker, according to Dana Loesch, host of a conservative radio show and a former National Rifle Association spokesperson.
“What I’m about to say is in no means a contradiction or a compromise of a principle. And please keep in mind that I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point,” said Loesch. “ I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”
-Opensecrets Researcher Andrew Mayersohn contributed to this report.