Billionaires and big cheques shape battle for Congress

Washington Updated: Feb 02, 2022, 03:59 PM(IST)

US Capitol Photograph:( AFP )

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Like Murkowski, Cheney outraised her Trump-backed challenger, Harriet Hageman, collecting $2 million to Hageman’s $443,000 last quarter, although money is often not the determining factor in outcomes

Billionaires cut giant checks to super PACs. Small donors gave online in mass quantities. Multimillionaires poured money into their own campaigns. And both political parties announced record-setting hauls in 2021.

The 2022 midterm elections were awash in political money even before the year began, according to new Federal Election Commission campaign disclosures made Monday.

With control of both chambers up for grabs — the Senate is knotted at 50-50 and Democrats are clinging to a narrow majority in the House — the two parties were almost equally matched when it came to fundraising last year. The Democratic and Republican national committees, as well as the main House and Senate committees, pulled in nearly identical sums — about $400 million each.

On the Republican side, several primary contests in the coming months will pit the Trump wing of the party against more traditional Republicans.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only Republican up for reelection in 2022 to have voted for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment, faces a right-wing challenge from Kelly Tshibaka, a Trump-endorsed rival.

Among Murkowski’s donors in December was George W. Bush, who listed his occupation as “former president.” Overall, Murkowski raised nearly $1.4 million and reported entering 2022 with $4.2 million cash on hand. Tshibaka raised $602,000 and had $634,000 cash on hand.

Bush made one other symbolic donation: the legal maximum of $5,800 to Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the most outspoken anti-Trump Republicans in Congress.

Like Murkowski, Cheney outraised her Trump-backed challenger, Harriet Hageman, collecting $2 million to Hageman’s $443,000 last quarter, although money is often not the determining factor in outcomes, especially in high-profile cases that garner significant media attention.

The battleground contests expected to determine which party is in the Senate majority are shaping up to be especially expensive. In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, was the top 2022 Senate fundraiser, collecting $9.8 million in the fourth quarter. Warnock had nearly $23 million at the end of the year.

His likely Republican opponent, former football player Herschel Walker, was urged to run by Trump. Walker has emerged as one of the strongest new Republican fundraisers, raising $5.4 million, with $5.4 million in the bank.

In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, raised $5.2 million and has $10.5 million in the bank; his expected Democratic challenger, Rep. Val Demings, outraised him by collecting $7.2 million, although she has less cash on hand, at $8.2 million.

While candidates face contribution limits of $2,900 each for the primary and general election, there is no limit on what the ultrarich can pour into campaigns through super PACs. Billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros seeded his own political committee with $125 million, new disclosures show, a sign that he will yet again continue to be a major financier on the left.

Big money flowed, in particular, to super PACs focused on control of Congress.

In the House, the leading Republican super PAC and linked nonprofit announced raising twice as much money as the equivalent House Democratic groups, $110 million compared with $55 million last year.

The disclosed donors to the House Democratic super PAC in the second half of the year included media executive Fred Eychaner ($4 million); LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman ($1.45 million); and philanthropist Connie Ballmer and real estate developer George Marcus ($1 million each). Eychaner also gave $4 million to the Senate Democratic super PAC.

The top donors to the House Republican super PAC were Patrick G. Ryan, an insurance magnate who gave $10 million, and Ken Griffin, a hedge fund manager who also gave $10 million.

Griffin also gave $5 million to the main Republican Senate super PAC, making him its largest donor in the second half of the year.

In addition, Griffin gave $5 million to a Pennsylvania-focused super PAC that has opposed Dr. Mehmet Oz, a surgeon and former television show host running in the Republican primary there. Among his opponents is David McCormick, who is the former CEO of a prominent hedge fund and who entered the race after the filing deadline.

Oz contributed more than $5 million to his own race — one of multiple wealthy Republican candidates powering their Senate campaigns with their own money. Jeff Bartos, another Republican candidate in Pennsylvania, gave his campaign $1.3 million.

In Arizona, Jim Lamon, a former energy executive, has put more than $8 million of his own money into his primary Senate run.

In Ohio, the Senate race is crowded with wealthy Republican self-funders who have lent or donated money to their own campaigns: Mike Gibbons, an investment banker ($11.4 million); Jane Timken, a former party chair ($3.5 million); Bernie Moreno, a former car dealer ($3.75 million); and Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians ($10.5 million).

Some of Dolan’s family members put an additional $3 million into a super PAC.

In Alabama, Mike Durant, who was in one of the Black Hawk helicopters that was shot down in Somalia in 1993, put more than $4 million into his run. Durant faces a former top aide to Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Katie Britt, who raised $1.2 million last quarter and has $4.1 million cash on hand.

Trump has endorsed a third Alabama candidate, Rep. Mo Brooks, whose fundraising has flagged. Brooks raised only $386,000 in the fourth quarter, down sharply from his previous two quarters.

Big money also poured into the campaigns of some politicians who are not even on the ballot this year, reflecting the high stakes of the legislative battles that have raged on Capitol Hill over President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have not committed to supporting Biden’s signature domestic bill, raised bigger sums than some facing competitive contests, even though neither is up for election again until 2024.

Sinema raised nearly $1.6 million in the fourth quarter — more than four times what she raised in the first quarter of 2021. Nearly 98% of her money came from larger contributions. Some of her contributions were from traditional Republican donors, including Nelson Peltz, an investor; Harlan Crow, a real estate developer; and Mike Fernandez, a health care industry investor.

Manchin also raised almost $1.6 million, of which more than $300,000 came from PACs.

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