Oct 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Cash floods down-ballot races

Illustration of blueprints colored green with the map of the United States drawn

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With just about a month to Election Day, both parties are pouring tens of millions of dollars into last-ditch efforts to consolidate control over state governments, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Major national fights are shaped at the state level, where legislatures have huge influence over issues like election administration and abortion policy.

Between the lines: The Supreme Court is set to hear a case this term that could radically expand the power of state legislatures, upping the stakes for both sides.

  • In 2020, state legislatures were at the heart of former President Trump and his allies' scheme to overturn the election by submitting alternate slates of electors to Congress.
  • Republicans have maintained control over more state legislative seats than Democrats for more than a decade straight, according to data reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The Republican State Leadership Committee, which elects Republicans to state legislative, judicial and administrative positions, raised a whopping $18.5 million in the third quarter, the group tells Axios.

  • That puts its total fundraising since last year at more than $71 million — a record high for a single cycle, the group says, even before its October haul.
  • Even so, RSLC is warning its donors that huge spending by Democratic candidates, committees and outside groups is eclipsing any Republican money advantage.

The other side: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee brought in nearly $10 million in Q3, the group tells Axios, and has raised nearly $45 million since last year — a record for this point in the cycle.

  • Unlike the RSLC, which helps elect candidates to non-legislative state offices such as secretaries of state and state supreme courts, the DLCC focuses exclusively on state legislative races.
  • The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State is putting up big numbers as well: it received two $250,000 donations this year, the largest contributions the group has ever reported.
  • A new Democratic group called the States Project recently announced a $60 million effort to flip Republican-controlled legislatures in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and defend Democratic majorities in Maine and Nevada.

The big picture: Despite the huge amounts of money going to down-ballot races, both sides insist they're being outspent and outgunned.

  • "[O]ur historic haul is still only a fraction of what the constellation of national liberal special interest groups continue to pour into state races, leaving us with a significant spending disadvantage on television in key states," RSLC president Dee Duncan told Axios in a statement.
  • In a memo to donors sent last month and obtained by Axios, Duncan warned that Democrats are "dominating the television spending at this point in the campaign."

Democrats, meanwhile, point to GOP air support from groups like Americans for Prosperity, an arm of the political network founded by billionaire Charles Koch.

DLCC executive director Heather Williams told Axios: "Republicans have been investing millions in state legislatures for decades — Democrats, on the other hand, have systemically neglected our level of the ballot."

  • "The DLCC has been smashing fundraising records, but we still need more support. State legislatures are absolutely critical: they craft our voting laws and they will decide abortion rights and so many other issues that impact Americans’ day-to-day life. Democrats must resource them accordingly.” 
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