A gigantic fundraising haul and outsized spending by a super PAC led by close allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have alarmed Senate Democrats, who fear their candidates may be outspent down the stretch of the election despite record grassroots fundraising.
Senate Leadership Fund, the super political action committee controlled by McConnell allies, raised $92 million in September and began October with more than $103 million in the bank, according to a Federal Election Commission report filed Tuesday afternoon. Those huge sums, collected mostly from checks of donors who gave more than $1 million and in some cases have not revealed themselves, have helped Senate Republicans gain a financial edge in several key races.
Over the final days of the election, according to the Democrats tracking media buys, Republicans are set to outspend Democrats on TV in four key Senate races: Michigan, where Democrats are hopeful Sen. Gary Peters can defend his seat against Republican John James; Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff is looking to knock off GOP Sen. David Perdue; Kansas, where Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier is battling Rep. Roger Marshall for an open seat; and in South Carolina, where Democrat Jaime Harrison is putting a scare into GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. Record fundraising has helped Democratic challengers put Republican incumbents into a defensive posture in several states ― stretching from Maine to Iowa, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska ― and created the possibility of a several-seat Democratic Senate majority in 2021. But Democratic officials are openly worried massive GOP spending could blunt those gains or deny them the majority entirely.
“Mitch McConnell’s mega-donor allies are going all out to hold the Senate by cutting massive checks that are immediately funneled into Senate battlegrounds,” said Scott Fairchild, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Without our grassroots supporters we won’t be able to flip Republican-held seats, and we still need their help to make sure Democrats have the resources to win.”
On a Zoom call with the progressive group NextGen America on Tuesday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pleaded with activists to stay focused on winning control of the Senate, suggesting Democrats were likely to win in Colorado and Arizona and could pick up as many as nine other seats.
“If we win the presidency and McConnell is still leader of the Senate, he will just blank everything,” Schumer said. “Hard-right Republicans are pouring money into McConnell since they know that’s the only way to stop progress on climate, on college, on criminal justice reform, on economic reform. We need people to go all-out these last two weeks.”
“This is a last-minute play from a few Republican billionaire donors trying to put their finger on the scale to save Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority.”
Senate Democrats saw record fundraising totals after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in late September. Three of the party’s candidates ― former astronaut Mark Kelly in Arizona, state House Speaker Sara Gideon in Maine and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina ― all broke the all-time Senate record for quarterly fundraising. Three other Democratic candidates raised more than $20 million.
But Republicans are so far dominating the battle between the two parties’ super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums provided they don’t directly coordinate with campaigns. The Senate Majority PAC, controlled by Schumer, raised $46 million in September and had just $55 million on hand at the end of the month ― roughly half of Senate Leadership Fund’s total.
“We’re flooding the zone to keep Republicans in the game even where they’ve been massively outraised by Democrats,” said Jack Pandol, the communications director for Senate Leadership Fund.
A huge portion of the Senate Leadership Fund’s haul came from a small number of billionaires. Nevada-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated an additional $10 million in September, bringing their total donations to the group this cycle to $60 million.
Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin donated $20 million, and a trio of executives of Reyes Holdings, a large food wholesaler, donated a combined $16 million. The group also received $27.5 million from One Nation, an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors.
“This is a last-minute play from a few Republican billionaire donors trying to put their finger on the scale to save Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority,” said J.B. Poersch, the president of Senate Majority PAC.
Since candidates are sold advertising space at the lowest possible race under federal law, Democratic candidates typically get more bang for their buck than Senate Leadership Fund. But Republicans have more gross rating points -- which measure advertising impact -- booked in Georgia and South Carolina. In both states, the two parties have booked more than 200,000 GRP in the final three weeks of the election.
McConnell’s political network has also continued to add additional spending, booking $22.5 million of additional airtime across eight states last week and putting an additional $4.3 million into Iowa’s heavily contested race between Democrat Theresa Greenfield and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
There are ways Democrats can quickly raise their own cash totals -- Senate Majority PAC is likely to receive a substantial transfer from its related nonprofit, Majority Forward.
And Democrats are likely to seize an advantage in outside spending in Texas, where Senate Majority PAC is teaming up with another super PAC, Future Forward, to launch an advertising blitz that could total more than $20 million, Re/Code reported Tuesday.