Call it the great political paradox of our time. While candidates for higher office are increasingly advocating the need for greater fiscal responsibility in government, there is one area where hopeful politicians are not shy about spending: their own campaigns.

Due in part to a series of Supreme Court decisions, beginning with the Citizens United case in 2010, more campaign spending nationwide is from outside groups rather than candidates themselves, Political Science Prof. Michael Traugott said.

In the Citizens United case, the court held that campaign contributions constitute a form of speech, and money coming from organizations independent of campaigns could not be regulated.

In Michigan, the races for governor and U.S. Senate have been no exception to this trend, becoming some of the most expensive in the country. In the gubernatorial race, $28.8 million has been spent on television ads alone, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s official campaign has spent $7.6 million, supported by another $6.5 million from the Republican Governors Association and $1.3 million from the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA political action committee. The Democratic Governors Association has done the majority of the ad spending for Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, providing $8.9 million so far, while Schauer’s campaign itself has contributed $2.6 million.

The RGA and DGA are 527 organizations, meaning that unlike the candidates’ official campaigns, there is no cap on how much they can accept from contributors or on how much they spend. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the largest Michigan contributor this election cycle to the RGA was ETC Capital, a Farmington Hills-based investment firm that has given roughly $2.7 million. The DGA’s largest in-state contributor this cycle is the United Auto Workers, which gave $1 million.

As expensive as the gubernatorial race is shaping up to be, the race for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat has proven to be even more costly. The Center for Responsive Politics rated it as the ninth-most expensive Senate race this election cycle, topping $46.9 million. Republican candidate Terri Lynn Land’s campaign has spent over $11.8 million, while U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate, has spent $9.5 million in his campaign.

Just like the gubernatorial race, outside spending for the Senate race has outpaced that of the candidates themselves. Liberal groups either supporting Peters or opposing Land have together spent roughly $18.7 million, while Conservative groups supporting Land or opposing Peters have spent $8.8 million. The two largest spenders in the race are the SuperPAC Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative group advocating for a reduction in government spending, and the NextGen Climate Action, a liberal environmental group backed by billionaire Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager. Steyer has spent $58 million this election cycle, the largest single donor in the disclosed political system.

While abundant spending on behalf of both candidates has distinguished the races for governor and Senate, lopsided financial advantages have characterized two other prominent Michigan campaigns.

In the race for Attorney General, Republican incumbent Bill Schuette has raised $3.7 million compared to Democratic challenger Mark Totten’s roughly $679,000, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Schuette has received large donations from the PACs for Decider Strategies, a Republican political consulting firm, and Detroit law firm Miller Canfield, as well as the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. For Totten, the largest contributors have been from the PACs for UAW and the Michigan Education Association.

Fundraising in the race for Michigan’s 12th congressional district has been similarly one-sided. Democratic nominee Debbie Dingell has raised over $1.3 million compared to just over $42,000 for Republican Terry Bowman. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than half of Dingell’s campaign war chest has come from sources outside the state.

Despite the influx of outside money in these races, it is unclear whether the candidates’ positions have altered as result of such trends. Traugott noted that though the current state of campaign finance has empowered some outside groups with a narrow issue focus, many of the groups like the RGA and DGA are just newer fundraising apparatuses of the standard political sources that existed pre-Citizens United.

“I think that the greatest impact on position-taking comes from direct contributions rather than these indirect contributions,” Traugott said. “They have the ability to contact the (elected official’s) office and remind them how they supported them during the campaign.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.