By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (June 21, 2021) — Elections for Michigan’s U.S. House of Representatives seats were the most expensive of all time, costing at least $86.8 million in total, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
The average cost of the election in each of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts inched up about $400,000 on average.
The $86.8 million total is a relatively small increase compared to 2018’s $80.8 million. Then Michigan had newly-minted status as a battleground state and Democrats zeroed in on races in two key districts, the 8th and the 11th districts, which ultimately flipped in their favor. Those districts, although rated safe for the Democrats by a number of prognosticators, still managed to draw a level of spending that would’ve been exceptional in 2016, when the total cost of Michigan’s U.S. House races was $40 million.
Outside groups played a substantial role in the election, accounting for about $25 million of the total. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC, was the top independent spender, paying $4.3 million on ads aiding Republican candidates in the 3rd, 6th and 11th districts. It's funded primarily by the dark money American Action Network and organizations related to the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The Michael Bloomberg-backed House Majority PAC was the top outside group helping Democrats, spending about $3.3 million between four districts.
Nearly $340,000 was spent on undisclosed ads on the social media platform Facebook which went unreported to the Federal Election Commission. The singlest largest spender was an ostensible news organization called Courier Newsroom, which devoted about $84,000 to promote Facebook posts with favorable coverage of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) between February and July 2020. MCFN and Bridge Magazine had previously reported on the nonprofit behind Courier and its ties to a major liberal dark money group, the Sixteen Thirty Fund.
A spreadsheet with a full breakdown of the spending is linked at the bottom of this article.
3rd District: $16.2 million
This time around there were no blockbuster races of national importance, though one came close: The third district contest for the open seat between Republican Peter Meijer and Democrat Hillary Scholten was the most expensive race, costing $16.1 million.
It was a startling shift in a district that had been held by then-U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian who left the Republican party and raised relatively little. In 2018 the 3rd district election cost less than $1 million.
The race became a battleground relatively late in the campaign season as Democrats’ prospects appeared to improve there. MCFN tracked at least $7.7 million dollars in outside spending on Scholten and Meijer, eclipsing the combined $7.3 million raised by the candidates.
The ads run by these groups were largely negative. The Democratic Congressional Committee released an opposition research report on Meijer which Scholten’s campaign and several groups used to form attack ads.
The firm AdImpact reported ads aired on broadcast television more than 11,000 times during the primary and general election. A little more than 1,000 involved Meijer’s primary opponent, former state rep. Lynn Afendoulis.
Meijer claimed victory by nearly a nearly 6% margin, about 24,000 votes.
8th District: $15.6 million
Spending in the 8th district was close behind the 3rd. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) bested Republican Paul Junge and in the process accrued the largest fundraising haul of any congressional candidate, garnering more than $9.1 million throughout the election cycle. Junge raised less than a fourth of that at $2.1 million.
At least $2.4 million was spent by dark money groups on broadcast ads in support of Slotkin, while all of the $1 million in independent spending on television in Junge’s favor went unreported to the FEC.
The race overall was a far cry from the more than $28 million that the 8th district election cost in 2018. Yet Slotkin’s district still voted to reelect then-President Donald Trump, underscoring Democrats’ tenuous hold on the area.
11th District: $14.7 million
U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) won reelection to a second term against a challenge from Republican Eric Esshaki, an attorney, by a little more than 3% of the vote.
About $6.5 million of that total came from outside spending, compared to the $7.2 million raised by both candidates combined.
Late in the race the Congressional Leadership Fund spent more than $1.8 million on ads attacking Stevens, while Independence USA PAC, funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, spent at least $1.3 million on ads to support her, according to AdImpact.
6th district — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R) vs. Jon Hoadley (D): $9.5 million
13th district — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) vs. David Dudenhoefer (R): $6.5 million
10th district — Lisa McClain (R) vs. Kim Bizon (D): $6.4 million
7th district — U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R) vs Gretchen Driskell (D): $4.1 million
2nd district — U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga vs. Bryan Berghoef (D): $3 million
1st district — U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R) vs. Dana Ferguson (D): $2.6 million
5th district — U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D) vs. Tim Kelly (R): $1.9 million
12th district — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D) vs. Jeff Jones (R): $1.8 million
4th district — U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R) vs. Jerry Hilliard (D): $1.6 million
9th district — U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D) vs. Charles Langworthy : $1.4 million
14th district — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D) vs. Robert Patrick (R): $1.1 million
(Titles reflect incumbency status at the time of election. Winners are listed first.)