Price for Key Senate Race Tops $100 Million

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Oct. 24 — Several Senate election contests are approaching the $100 million mark in campaign spending, with the Pennsylvania race looking to set a new record with more than $120 million spent, the latest disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission revealed.

Pennsylvania incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, together had rung up nearly $120 million in campaign spending two weeks before Election Day, FEC data show.

The huge spending has come as Democratic and Republican candidates and outside groups battle with television ads and other voter mobilization efforts in the handful of close races that will determine party control of the Senate after the election.

Total spending in the top five most expensive Senate races has reached $438 million and counting—an average of more than $87 million per race, the disclosure reports show. In addition to Pennsylvania, the most costly races include those in New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida and Ohio.

Spending in these races has been pushed up mainly by outside groups, including super political action committees, which are outspending the candidates by a factor of about 3-to-1. Outside spending totaled nearly $318 million in these races, compared to just over $120 million in total candidate spending.

Targeting Republican Incumbents

The spending has been heavily concentrated in states like Pennsylvania with incumbent Republican senators viewed as vulnerable to Democratic challengers. All of the top five races in terms of campaign money spent, involve GOP incumbents, except for the open seat in Nevada, where Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is retiring.

The Senate race in tiny New Hampshire, pitting incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, has seen the second-highest in total spending—over $94 million—and appears to represent by far the highest per capita campaign spending ever in a Senate race. More than $70 has been spent for each of the state's 1.33 million residents on Senate campaign ads and other efforts in the Ayotte-Hassan race.

The campaign money figures are based on Senate candidate reports of spending through Sept. 30, which were filed with the FEC in mid-October, as well as reports of independent campaign expenditures through Oct. 23, which were filed with the FEC and analyzed by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Bloomberg BNA reviewed the reports and included the widest measure of campaign spending by all candidates and outside groups, including money spent on primary campaigns.

The latest figures understate the eventual total cost of these races, as additional spending will continue to be reported through election day.

In addition, an unknown portion of the money affecting the races goes officially undisclosed due to gaps in FEC reporting rules. For example, One Nation and Majority Forward—major campaign spending organizations closely tied to Republican and Democratic leaders, respectively, and funded by undisclosed donations—spent at least $26 million in key Senate races that was never reported to the FEC, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data (See previous story, 10/17/16).

2014 N.C. Senate Race Cost $115 Million

The high-priced Senate races this year continue the trend seen in recent elections since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which spurred a big increase in outside spending to influence federal campaigns.

In 2014, the most expensive Senate race—and the first to top the $100 million mark—was in North Carolina, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Just over $115 million was spent in that contest, in which incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan was toppled by Republican Thom Tillis. Coming in at just under $100 million was the Colorado Senate race in which Republican Cory Gardner unseated Democrat Mark Udall. The total cost of the race was $98 million.

This year's Senate races are playing out against the backdrop of a presidential campaign that has seen somewhat less total spending than other recent presidential races. Republican nominee Donald Trump and allied groups have raised and spent significantly less campaign money than the 2012 GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has rung up campaign money at close to the level of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

Clinton Super PAC in Senate Races

According to a Bloomberg Politics analysis of the latest FEC reports, total campaign money raised by Clinton and allied super PACs was just under $950 million, while Trump has raised nearly $450 million. The Clinton side holds a big lead in cash on hand, with nearly $178 million, compared to $97.3 million for the Trump side.

Some of the biggest Republican donors, including the network linked to Koch Industries Inc. heads Charles and David Koch, have spent almost no money in the presidential races but poured money into efforts to retain Republican-held Senate seats.

Meanwhile, as Clinton's lead over Trump in presidential polls has widened recently, Democrats also are diverting more money down the ballot. For example, the main super PAC spending money to support Clinton and oppose Trump, Priorities USA Action, recently has begun spending on TV ads linking Trump to Ayotte and Toomey and seeking to unseat the incumbent senators.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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