The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Political signs in Manchester. Photo by Ryan Lessard.

Campaign finance numbers

Total outside spending
Kelly Ayotte: $38,715,064
Maggie Hassan: $33,447,281
Top super PACs
• Granite State Solutions
Super PAC
• Senate Majority PAC
Super PAC
• Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte
• National Republican Senatorial Cmte

The money game
Where is all the outside money coming from?

By Ryan Lessard

 Spending has ramped up in the U.S. Senate race between Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan in recent months, mostly with outside money from super PACs and so-called “dark money” advocacy groups. 

Dark money groups are organizations that, unlike PACs, are not required to disclose its donors, but they’re not allowed to explicitly support a candidate. Super PACs and other independent spending groups are allowed to raise unlimited money with no contribution restrictions so long as they don’t coordinate with candidate campaigns, but they can coordinate with one another.
Robert Boatright, a professor of political science at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has been following the money game closely. He said that by August, spending had already passed the $20 million mark. 
By mid-September it reached $50 million, and now, toward the end of October, it has exceeded $70 million, according to
“By the time the election’s over, this is going to be by far not only the most expensive election that New Hampshire has seen, but probably arguably among the four or five most expensive Senate elections the U.S. has seen … in terms of outside money,” Boatright said.
As far as candidate money goes, it’s only a fraction of that. An analysis by OpenSecrets shows Ayotte’s campaign has raised money from industries like real estate, law firms, insurance, oil and gas and pharmaceuticals. Hassan’s campaign has raised money from law firms, women’s issues groups, nonprofits and the education sector.
According to available data online, outside money has dominated with more than $38.7 million in spending on behalf of Ayotte and more than $33.4 million on behalf of Hassan.
One of the biggest players on the pro-Ayotte side is a PAC called Granite State Solutions, Boatright said. It has spent more than $18.6 million for attack ads against Hassan, according to OpenSecrets. In Hassan’s corner is the Senate Majority PAC, which spent $11.3 million in ads supporting Hassan and attacking Ayotte. Behind Granite State Solutions are a number of out-of-state donors, the largest of which is Sheldon Adelson. While that PAC’s money is being spent entirely to help Ayotte’s race, the Senate Majority PAC is used for several races nationwide. Among the biggest donors to that PAC are George Soros, his son Alexander Soros and media mogul Fred Eychaner.
The second largest PACs, in terms of spending, on both sides are the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($7.6 million) and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee ($6.8 million). 
One “dark money” group (501c4) called One Nation, which has connections to former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove, spent money attacking Hassan early in the campaign. It got the attention of Hassan and her backers for invoking the drug crisis and laying blame at Hassan’s feet for hampering the state’s response by vetoing the last budget. Critics called this “politicization” of a tragic situation, and even Ayotte openly denounced the ads. 
“I never wanted these ads to be up there in the first place. That’s why I said, let’s do the People’s Pledge,” Ayotte said in a recent phone interview. “The thing with it is that [outside groups and billionaires] try to get these false negative ads out there, but the candidates do still control what they stand for. But it does flood the airwaves, no doubt.”
Controlling the tone and message of one’s campaign is still possible, she contends, but these super PAC and advocacy group ads act independently of a campaign and can muddy the waters. 
Early in the race, Ayotte proposed the candidates sign a People’s Pledge, which would try to limit outside spending. Hassan rejoined with her own modified People’s Pledge that added a cap to campaign spending.
“In general, it’s hard to enforce those sorts of things in a race featuring an incumbent, because incumbents are able to raise money much more easily from political action committees, which tend to be from outside of the state. So, for the most part, outside spending tends to advantage non-incumbents,” Boatright said.
Ayotte hedges when asked about campaign finance reform that includes overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates of outside spending, saying she wants to be careful not to infringe on First Amendment rights.
Hassan says she wants to overturn it.
“That’s why I consistently work for campaign finance reform, first in the New Hampshire state Senate. Right after Citizens United was passed, I worked on a state-level disclosure bill. Then and now I support overturning Citizens United,” Hassan said in a phone interview.
Some of the trends with spending for the presidential race are having some impact now on the Senate race. Boatright said Republican donors were holding back on giving to Trump. Now that many are seeing his chances as a bad bet, they’re focusing on Congressional races.
“Clinton has a huge financial advantage over Trump. In terms of her own money, it’s been more like three to one,” Boatright said. “Trump has not been effective at raising money. He’s not managed to motivate traditional Republican donors. People who contribute to super PACs have looked more and more at the Senate. So there’s a huge difference.”
This might have given Ayotte a slight boost in recent weeks. Boatright said a conservative super PAC that formed seemingly overnight called Senate Leadership Fund has disclosed more than $50 million in independent expenditures, with more than $20 million from casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. It’s planning on spending more than $20 million in six battleground states including New Hampshire, but we won’t fully know how much they’ve spent in the state until after the election.
But this year Republican ad spending has been divided and decentralized overall. Boatright said this is a symptom of an ideological split within the party, despite efforts by some like Rove to set himself up as the go-to central fundraiser for Republican candidates. Other folks like South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint have raised money from other factions within the party.
Meanwhile, Democratic groups are working together to make sure spending in New Hampshire is coordinated in support of Hassan.
“These groups can talk to each other about what they are doing, so there’s clearly a coordinated strategy to spend money on behalf of Hassan and to have everybody effectively take their turn so that nobody’s stomping over everybody else,” Boatright said.
So one week you’ll see ads funded by Planned Parenthood and the next week ads by the League of Conservation Voters.
In the end, however, it’s likely all the ad spending will amount to an arms race that keeps all things equal, since spending on each side is about equal.
Political analyst Dean Spiliotes says the spending outcome will likely be a wash and the race will depend on the larger forces of the presidential race. The big winners from all this spending will be the TV stations. In retrospect, this may leave big donors and PACs to reevaluate their strategies.
“I think this is something that will be researched for many years to come,” Spiliotes said. 

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