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Senate candidates able to tap their own wealth aim for an edge in primaries

28 hopefuls are already self-funding part of their campaigns

Real estate developer Jeff Bartos has already put nearly $1.3 million of his own money into his campaign for the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania.
Real estate developer Jeff Bartos has already put nearly $1.3 million of his own money into his campaign for the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania. (Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images file photo)

The 2022 midterms already feature more than two dozen wealthy Senate candidates spending their own money on their campaigns, with several spending in top battleground races, according to recent fundraising reports. 

Twenty-eight Senate hopefuls have injected $50,000 or more of their own funds into their races, spending or loaning their campaigns a combined $32.2 million, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The average self-funding Senate candidate had a minimum net worth of at least $12.5 million, according to personal financial disclosure reports filed through this week by 18 of them. 

Wealthy candidates have the ability to upend their races, particularly in contested primaries, by spending their own money to reach out to voters and boost name recognition. There are no limits on how much of their own money candidates can contribute or loan to their campaigns, according to FEC guidelines. Most self-funding occurs when candidates make loans to their campaigns, which can eventually be repaid using campaign contributions from other individuals and groups. 

Self-funding is not new. Indeed, the all-time top self-funding candidate in a single Senate campaign is Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Florida Republican put $63.6 million of his money into winning his seat in 2018, besting the previous record of $60 million set by New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine in his successful 2000 race, according to OpenSecrets. But Republican Linda McMahon put $50 million into her losing Senate bid in Connecticut in 2010, and another $49 million when she lost again in 2012.

In the battlegrounds

Five of the eight states that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Senate battlegrounds have self-funding Senate candidates. Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have a combined 14 self-funders: six Democrats and eight Republicans. 

Of the battleground self-funders, Arizona Republican Jim Lamon, a solar energy executive, has spent the most of his own money. Through Sept. 30, he loaned his campaign $5 million, which accounts for 93 percent of his campaign’s fundraising so far. 

The GOP primary to take on Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly features two other candidates who have loaned their campaigns a sizable amount of money: Mick McGuire, a retired Air Force major general, who has loaned his campaign $250,000, and Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation and has donated $94,000 to his campaign. A Thiel-backed super PAC is also supporting Masters.

[The top 10 Senate self funders so far]

The next largest battleground self-funder so far has been Carla Sands, who is running for the GOP nomination in Pennsylvania. Sands served as ambassador to Denmark under President Donald Trump, and she loaned her campaign $3.1 million. 

Sands’ wealth reportedly stems from her late husband’s company, Vintage Capital, which Sands took over after his death, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sands has not yet filed her financial disclosure report, which was due Oct. 30. She has 30 days after the deadline to file her report before facing a $200 fine, according to Senate Ethics Committee guidelines.

The GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania features two other self-funders: real estate developer Jeff Bartos, who loaned his campaign $1.2 million, and Everett Stern, who owns a private intelligence company and loaned his campaign $87,000. On the Democratic side, Val Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery Board of Commissioners, loaned her campaign $500,000 through Sept. 30. 

The wealthiest battleground Senate candidate appears to be Wisconsin Democrat Alex Lasry, an executive for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, which his father co-owns. Lasry, who is competing to take on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, has loaned his campaign $800,000, which accounts for a quarter of the more than $3.1 million his campaign has raised so far. But Lasry has more to contribute — his net worth is at least $99 million, according to an analysis of his assets and liabilities. 

Two other Wisconsin Democrats have put in their own money: state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and radiologist Gillian Battino. Godlewski has contributed and loaned her campaign a combined $1 million, which accounts for a majority of the nearly $1.9 million her campaign has raised so far, while Battino loaned her campaign $125,000. 

The competitive open-seat race in North Carolina has also seen candidates who’ve made personal loans to their campaigns. GOP Rep. Ted Budd has loaned his campaign $275,000, while former Democratic state Sen. Erica Smith loaned her campaign $85,000.

Georgia’s Senate race features a self-funding candidate as well: Republican Kelvin King, who owns a construction company, has loaned his campaign $300,000.

Buckeye brawl 

The open Senate race in Ohio has attracted the most self-funders so far, with five Republicans putting in their own money to bolster their campaigns. The hotly contested primary in the GOP-leaning state has attracted a crowded field of Senate candidates seeking to succeed retiring Republican Rob Portman

Investment banker Mike Gibbons has put in the most of his own money of any Senate candidate so far this cycle, loaning his campaign $7.9 million, which accounts for 92 percent of his campaign’s fundraising. 

Gibbons’ lawyer wrote in a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee on Oct. 26 that the candidate’s filing was delayed “due to his unusually complex finances, which required an extensive information-gathering effort to assess the current value and income for hundreds of properties and several stock portfolios,” according to a copy of the letter shared by Gibbons’ campaign. Gibbons’ lawyer estimated the report would be filed by Nov. 1, but it was not filed as of Tuesday evening. 

Former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken has put $2 million of her own money into her bid for the state’s open Senate seat. (Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto via Getty Images file photo)

Bernie Moreno, who owned car dealerships and now chairs a technology company, and former state GOP chair Jane Timken have loaned their campaigns $3 million and $2 million respectively. Mark Pukita, who founded an IT services company, loaned his Senate campaign $179,000. The GOP primary could feature another self-funder. State Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, entered the race in September, so he has not yet filed a fundraising report or a financial disclosure.

Author and venture capitalist JD Vance loaned his campaign $100,000, but he also has not yet filed a financial disclosure. 

Vance had filed an extension, pushing the filing deadline to Oct. 29. His campaign spokesperson, Taylor Van Kirk, said in an email that the campaign is waiting on “a few additional pieces of information from third parties” and Vance’s disclosure would be filed “well within the 30-day period provided for in the rules.” 

Candidates’ personal financial disclosures are key pieces of information for voters, particularly for candidates who self-fund their campaigns, said Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. 

“Voters cannot make an informed decision on a candidate if they’re not aware of their potential financial conflicts of interest,” Payne said. 

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