Jan 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Record campaign cash flows into races for state election officials

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Atlanta, Georgia
Former President Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Georgia in 2020. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Record-breaking waves of campaign cash are poised to flood state-level races for secretary of state and other positions with a role in administering elections, according to the election watchdog Brennan Center.

Why it matters: As many GOP-led states move to restrict voting rights, and as former President Trump promotes loyalist candidates backing baseless election fraud claims or paths for elected officials to overrule the will of voters, both parties have put outsized focus on getting the "right" people into decision-making posts.

Driving the news: In a report released Wednesday, the Brennan Center says secretary of state candidates in Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota have been more than doubling their overall fundraising, compared to comparable points in the 2018 and 2014 midterms.

  • In Georgia — the front lines both in the battle over voting rights and Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election — Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's re-election campaign had raised four times more money by last June than he had at the same point in 2018.
  • And he's only the second-best fundraiser in the race.
  • Trump-backed Rep. Jody Hice had brought in more money than anyone else in the Georgia secretary of state race.
  • In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, had nearly quintupled her 2018 cycle draw as of last October, coming in at $1.2 million.
Data: Brennan Center; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The big picture: It's not just individual races.

  • The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State raised $202,000 in the first six months of 2019, the report said — the first time the national group ever had cleared six figures in the first half of an odd-numbered year.
  • Then the group cleared $1 million in the first half of 2021.
  • The Republican State Leadership Committee also has seen an increase.

Details: Brennan Center officials say this is the first time they've launched tracking initiatives for these contests.

  • The group also will track local election-official races in Arizona, Florida Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas and Wisconsin; and governor's races in the same states plus Pennsylvania.
  • States have different filing requirements, so some of these totals are outdated and a new candidate may have moved into the fundraising lead. But the overall trend toward more overall flooding of cash appears unstoppable.

What to watch: The Brennan Center says it also will be keeping track of candidates who claim the 2020 election results were illegitimate, threaten not to certify results, call for baseless "full forensic audits" or otherwise use election denial in campaign messaging.

  • The report says all six of the battleground states with secretary of state elections this year — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin — have at least one candidate questioning or denying the 2020 election.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Jody Hice is currently a member of Congress, not a former U.S. representative.

Go deeper