Fri. May 24th, 2024

Rich people are spending more than ever to run for Congress. A big test is coming in Maryland.

By 37ci3 May6,2024

Wealthy office-seekers spent more of their own money last year running for Congress than ever before. Now the biggest hurdle is facing an important one.

Democratic Rep. David Trone has given more than $57 million of his own money to his Maryland Senate campaign ahead of next week’s primary election. But he’s not alone: ​​Self-funded congressional candidates gave their campaigns $131 million in 2023, more than in any other single year going back to at least 2003, according to an NBC News review of campaign finance reports.

Taking in nearly $37 million from Trone last year alone, it’s part of a recent outburst by wealthy candidates that has fundamentally changed the way campaigns are won and lost — and perhaps made it harder than ever for the not-so-wealthy to get it. Washington because candidates are not bound by donation limits and can give unlimited amounts to their campaigns.

The trend affects everything from open-seat primaries for deep red or blue districts to Senate races across the country. Trone continues to spend heavily as he tries to win the Democratic primary to unseat retiring Sen. Ben Cardy ahead of a costly November battle against former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who has the support of some of Maryland’s most prominent Democrats but was outscored 9-1 by Trone, is also running hard for the Democratic nomination.

Maryland Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks
Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat running for US Senate in Maryland.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

“I don’t believe that’s how democracy works. I think we need to reform these campaigns,” Alsobrooks said in April Debate sponsored by Fox affiliate WBFF in Baltimore, criticizing Trone’s self-funding, saying his own fundraising is evidence of his “broad and growing coalition.” He added: “Money can’t buy you love and it really can’t buy you Maryland.”

Trone pushed back, arguing that relying on his wealth meant he wasn’t beholden to big donors. During the debate, he listed the corporate PACs that have given money to Alsobrooks in the past and questioned whether those companies had America’s best interests in mind.

“We need to get rid of the politics that are really poisoning our system. I am the only candidate not taking money from Exxon at this stage. They don’t help us in the environment, I don’t think,” he said.

Trone’s spokesman, Onotse Omoyeni, echoed Trone’s debate comments in a statement to NBC News, saying the congressman “refused to take money from special interests who pay career politicians to stand in the way of progress.”

“In the Senate, he will not just give up this money: he has already introduced major reforms to our electoral system, including banning all dark money and special interest money from elections,” Omoyeni added.

Trone is leading a large self-financing package

Trone’s lavish spending is part of a long-term pattern for the mega-wealthy co-owner of Total Wine & More. He lent nearly $46 million to his campaigns between 2015 and 2022 before announcing his Senate bid. That includes $13 million during his first run for Congress, more than he spent to hold his current district in 2018, when he lost a primary for a deep-blue open seat bordering Washington.

But Trone’s self-funding is only the biggest example of a broader trend in congressional races. Candidates gave $61 million to their House campaigns in 2023 and $70 million to their Senate campaigns, nearly half of which came from Trone in his Senate bid.

Ohio Republican Matt Dolan ($7 million) and Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott ($3.5 million) were the next biggest Senate self-funders in 2023, followed by Ohio Republican Bernie Moreno ($3 million), who defeated Dolan in the Senate GOP dollars). primary earlier this year.

Seven other Senate candidates whose campaigns are still active cut themselves seven-figure checks last year: six Republicans (Maryland’s Robin Ficker, Utah’s Brad Wilson, Florida’s Keith Gross, Montana’s Tim Sheehy, Michigan’s Sandy Pensler and Pennsylvania’s Dave Democrat) and one, Florida’s Stanley Campbell .

Seventeen House candidates gave at least $1 million to their campaigns last year; Former Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., loaned his campaign $2.4 million to fund his attempt to return to Congress, and Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., gave more than $2 million to his campaign.

There has been a fairly steady increase in congressional campaign self-financing in recent years, and a big jump since the early 2000s.

Congressional candidates loaned their campaigns about $14.6 million in 2003. The amount of off-year self-funding increased from about $22 million in 2005 to $36 million in 2009, before reaching more than $62 million in 2009 after the election of President Barack Obama. the beginning of the tea party republican wave.

Self-financing declined in subsequent years. But after the Donald Trump years, the famous businessman took over the White House and began to self-finance again. Wealthy candidates spent almost $93 million on their House and Senate campaigns in 2017 and $64 million in 2019, rising to almost $126 million in 2021 and $131 million in 2023. before arriving.

Similarly, the number of candidates seeking to splash their campaigns with cash early has increased: 11 Senate candidates have more than committed themselves to at least $1 million, except in 2021, when 13 candidates did so. and 17 House candidates are doing so more than ever before.

These initial infusions of private wealth do not decide who wins campaigns. Of the 90 congressional candidates who have given at least $1 million to their campaigns since 2003, only 11 have won House and Senate races.

That’s about 12%, a relatively low winning percentage overall — but a number that seems even more impressive when you consider that there are thousands of congressional campaigns every year, and many of them lose. And that figure doesn’t take into account candidates who have loaned seven-figure sums to their campaigns the same year as their election, as Trone has done during multiple House bids.

Relying on private equity early in the process can be an important accelerator for a campaign, allowing it to ramp up things like staffing, messaging and advertising quickly without waiting for fundraising infrastructure to be built.

One reason why self-funding is especially attractive to non-incumbent candidates is: A recent OpenSecrets analysis found that 88% of self-funding in 2023 went to candidates or challengers running in open seats instead of incumbents. That share includes Trone, as he is running for an open Senate seat. But even without it, a significant majority of self-funding is still done by candidates running for open seats or incumbents.

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By 37ci3

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