Dec 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Secretary of State races become fundraising cash magnet

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Both parties are ramping up fundraising for secretary of state races, which in just a couple of years have gone from obscure down-ballot contests to high-profile races that could reshape American democracy.

Why it matters: Secretaries of state are many states' chief election administrators, making them crucial to efforts to alter election rules. Former President Trump is working to game the rules in his favor — and Democrats are trying to impede him.

What's happening: Party committees focused on those races are already breaking fundraising records.

  • The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State plans to bring in about $15 million this cycle, people with knowledge of its strategy tell Axios.
  • That's more than 10 times its best-ever fundraising haul, according to campaign finance records.
  • It's already received two $250,000 donations this year — the largest contributions the group has ever brought in — from progressive philanthropist Quinn Delaney and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank.
  • A spokesperson for Blank declined to comment on his contribution. Delaney did not respond to requests for comment.

Republicans are breaking their own fundraising records too.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, whose portfolio includes secretary of state races, raised $19 million for itself and an affiliated nonprofit group from January through September, RSLC said in a statement.

  • Much of that money will go toward state legislature elections, which is RSLC's primary mandate. But the group expects to be able to devote more resources than ever to secretary of state contests, as well.
  • "When it comes to secretary of state races, our goal right now is to raise as much money as possible so we can elect as many Republicans as possible, because we know they are rapidly increasing the amount of money they are raising on the other side," an RSLC spokesperson told Axios.

The big picture: Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: these races — once little-noticed elections to posts generally thought of as springboards to higher office — are going to be much more competitive next year.

  • "Historically, these races have been much more technocratic and election administration-based — almost apolitical, rather than partisan," DASS executive director Kim Rogers told Axios.
  • Since the 2020 election, Trump has repeatedly — and falsely — claimed various state elections were rigged against him, thrusting those administrators into the national spotlight.
  • He's endorsed secretary of state candidates in three key states: Arizona, Georgia and Michigan. Democrats fear Trump-backed candidates will weaponize the positions on behalf of a 2024 Trump presidential candidacy.
  • Trump-backed candidates are already seeing fundraising success in their own right. In Georgia, Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican running for secretary of state on a platform that stresses "election integrity," more than doubled incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's haul during the first six months of the year.

What they're saying: "In 2018, [Trump] didn't even endorse a single secretary of state," Rogers noted. "I think that's a pretty interesting juxtaposition, from where we were to where we are, because you have just such a huge shift."

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