Big Spenders Come Up Short
Republican candidates in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia learned some costly lessons last Tuesday, mainly that money won’t get you elected. Some candidates spent a whopping $105 per vote and walked away losers, while others spent $2 per vote to head to the election in November. And in the open-seat Congressional races, Republicans outspent Democrats by $27 a vote.
In the Senate races in the three states—North Carolina has no Senate seats on the ballot—candidates boosted by outside spending groups spent roughly $14 per vote or $1.8 million apiece only to get trounced by candidates with no PAC support.
Indiana’s primary race was the most expensive, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rep. Todd Rokita (R) had the support of super PAC America Values First, which spent $17,500 supporting the congressman’s run for senator and poured an additional $35,000 opposing candidates Mike Braun and Rep. Luke Messer (R). In the end, Braun, a business executive with no outside spending help, took the primary. He raised and spent $4.5 million, or $21 per vote, to Rokita’s $18 per vote, according to Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data.
Ohio’s candidates spent just under $3 million, or a third of what was spent on the Indiana race. Banker Mike Gibbons has the distinction of being the only Senate candidate thus far to outspend his opponents and lose. He raised and spent a little over $2 million, or $9 per vote, with the help of $183,079 in outside spending. Winner Rep. Jim Renacci (R) raised and spent $836,974 or $2 per vote, according to FEC data.
The biggest spender in all three Republican Senate primaries was controversial candidate and coal magnate Don Blankenship, running as a Libertarian in West Virginia. He spent $2.8 million—or $105 per vote—to lose to state Attorney General Patrick Morrissey (R) who spent $1.1 million or $41 per vote. Morrissey’s cost per vote is still outrageous and he had the backing of nearly $1 million in outside spending. Rep. Evan Jenkins (L) also threw a lot of money behind each vote at $34 apiece. He raised and spent $1.4 million, based on FEC data.
Super PAC, Duty & Country PAC, a Democrat-aligned spending group, spent almost $2 million against Jenkins and Morrissey hoping Blankenship would end up on the ballot in November.
And a super PAC linked to the GOP establishment, Mountain Families PAC, spent more than $1.3 million trying to achieve the opposite results—keeping Blankenship off the November ballot.
Meanwhile, the open-seat House primaries on Tuesday in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia – North Carolina has no open House seats—were also expensive, with mixed results of money spent and winning. But a big takeaway is the comparison of how much money the Republican winners outspent Democrats per vote. Republicans and their aligned outside spending groups spent on average about $31 per vote to land on the ballot come November. Democrats? Less than a Starbucks large latté—or less than $4 per vote.
Too Little, Too Late
Despite the $380 million in funds Congress has earmarked to protect our vulnerable election system from cyberattacks in the November midterms, it will likely be too little, too late. Most states that have not already replaced outmoded voting equipment will not have time to upgrade before votes are cast, according to a Bloomberg article.
The most vulnerable voting machines are paperless ones, and 11 states still use them. Right now, Pennsylvania is scrambling ahead of its congressional primary on Tuesday, May 15, to upgrade its election systems. The state is expected to receive $14 million from the federal funds though state officials estimate the real cost of replacing outmoded systems is closer to $150 million.
Pennsylvanians got a harsh schooling on the importance of a verifiable vote count when Conor Lamb (D) won a special election in the 18th Congressional District by just 800 votes ahead of state Rep. Rick Saccone (R). The lack of a paper record left officials with no way to verify the count. A court-ordered redistricting has put Lamb and Saccone in different districts and both are running again for the midterms.
Pennsylvania’s state government will upgrade all machines with a verifiable paper record, but not until 2019.
Other states facing expensive upgrades with insufficient federal assistance include Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana, which is slated to receive $6 million but needs $60 million.
In the 2016 elections, Russians targeted voter registration databases in 21 states, according to the Department of Homeland Security.