Michigan's 2018 Election Attracted At Least $324 Million, According To Analysis

With A Handful Of Campaign Finance Records Broken, It Was The Most Expensive Election In State History Even With Past Totals Adjusted For Inflation.




LANSING (May 9, 2019) — Michigan’s 2018 election was the most expensive in state history. As voters chose a new governor, picked candidates for every seat in the state Legislature and decided two competitive U.S. House races, money poured in from outside groups, and campaigns raised record amounts.

Overall, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) tracked at least $324.1 million across Michigan’s 2018 races for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Michigan Senate, Michigan House and Michigan Supreme Court. The number includes primary and general election candidate fundraising, disclosed independent spending — spending done by groups acting outside of the candidates’ campaigns — and undisclosed spending on TV ads that sought to promote or criticize candidates.

MCFN tracks the undisclosed spending through filings on political ad sales provided to the Federal Communications Commission and ad-tracking data Kantar Media/CMAG.

Before 2018, Michigan’s most expensive elected occurred in 2012. For that election, MCFN tracked about $262 million. Even when adjusted for inflation, that 2012 total equates to only about $288 million, about 11 percent less than the 2018 total.



The following is a summary of the money the MCFN tracked in the 2018 election, the records that were broken and links to our reporting that digs into where all of the cash came from.



The Race For Governor: $93.4 Million

Michigan’s 2018 race for governor drew about $93.4 million overall, and it spurred record spending by groups that can accept unlimited contributions while operating at least somewhat outside of the candidates’ campaigns. Both outcomes point to larger trends in campaign finance: more money in races; and more money coming from spenders that are allegedly “independent” of the candidates.

The 2018 total is easily a record if you don’t adjust past totals for inflation. The previous record was about $79 million, which was set in the 2006 race between Republican Dick DeVos and incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm. DeVos put about $35 million of his own money into that race. If inflation is considered, the 2006 total would still be the state's most expensive gubernatorial contest in recent history: It would equal about $98.3 million in today’s dollars.

— The Donors, The Dollars And The Dark Money: How $93 Million Poured Into The 2018 Campaign For Governor
— How Loopholes Allow Michigan Political Parties To Pour Anonymous Dollars Into State Elections
— Who Funded Schuette And Whitmer’s Campaigns For Governor?


The Race For Attorney General: $8.4 Million

Republican groups poured money into the 2018 race for attorney general, unsuccessfully trying to help then-GOP House Speaker Tom Leonard defeat Democrat Dana Nessel. The race saw a record amount of money overall for an attorney general contest in Michigan and a record amount of spending by groups acting outside of the candidates' campaigns for an attorney general contest in Michigan.

Overall, the race attracted about $8.4 million with Nessel’s campaign raising $2.0 million and Leonard’s campaign raising $2.1 million.

— In Race To Be Michigan’s Top Law Enforcement Official, Outside Groups Spent More Than The Candidates
— They’re Running For Attorney General, Secretary Of State And Supreme Court. But Who’s Been Funding Their Campaigns?


The Race For Secretary Of State: $3.6 Million

The 2018 campaign for secretary of state looked different than any other in recent Michigan history as a national group based in Washington D.C. spent nearly $1 million on the race. The state’s previous four secretary of state contests saw either little spending by groups acting outside of the candidates' campaigns or the outside spending was dominated by Michigan’s political parties.

In 2018, however, a group called iVote reported spending $976,351 to support Democratic candidate Jocelyn Benson. The group’s spending represented about 26 percent of the money in the race.

— National Group Spent Nearly $1 Million On Michigan’s 2018 Race For Secretary of State
— They’re Running For Attorney General, Secretary Of State And Supreme Court. But Who’s Been Funding Their Campaigns?


The Races For Michigan Senate: $34.5 Million

The 2018 races for the Michigan Senate smashed past fundraising records as Republicans and Democrats battled over control of the chamber for the next four years.

The campaigns had it all: expensive primary contests; big-spending super PACs; the image of a lawmaker’s face on a swamp monster’s body; and more than $3 million in dark-money TV advertisements.

Those were TV ads that sought to influence voters but showed up in zero public disclosures. cross the primary and general election campaigns, the Senate races attracted a total of $34.5 million.

— The Most Expensive Fight For The Senate
— How Millions Of Dollars In Dark Money Poured Into State Senate Races In 2018
— Michigan's 2018 Michigan Senate Races By The Numbers


The Races For The Michigan House: $27.6 Million

Despite there being races for the state Senate and an expensive gubernatorial contest also on the ballot, the 2018 state House races still attracted a record $27.6 million. The 2018 total is up slightly over the 2016 total of $27.0 million. However, in 2016, the state House contests didn’t have to compete for attention and funding with races for governor and the state Senate.

The most expensive individual state House race of 2018 was in the 61st District. That race between Republican Brandt Iden and Democrat Alberta Griffin attracted $1.5 million.

— The Cost Of Campaigns For The Michigan House Rises … Once Again
— 2018’s Michigan House Races By The Numbers
— Donors Betting Big On Leadership Candidates


The Races For Michigan's U.S. House Seats: $80.8 Million

The 2018 election saw the most expensive campaigns for the U.S. House in Michigan history as groups funded by top national donors poured money into the state. The primary and general election races for Michigan’s 14 seats in the U.S. House attracted about $80 million.

The jump in overall money in the races was the result of two highly competitive elections, increased fundraising by Democratic candidates and an influx of spending by super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

— Michigan’s 2018 U.S. House Races Attracted $80 Million, Double The 2016 Total
— Tracking The Money In The U.S. House Campaigns By Race
— Michigan U.S. House Candidates’ Fundraising Hauls
— Big Donors, Super PACs Left An Imprint On Michigan’s 2018 U.S. House Races


The Race For The U.S. Senate: $40.6 Million

While campaign finance records fell like dominos during Michigan’s 2018 election, the state’s U.S. Senate race was a different story.

Democrat Debbie Stabenow won re-election against Republican John James in a contest that attracted about $40 million overall, according to an analysis of independent spending reports and candidate fundraising disclosures. The total may seem like a large one, but it wasn’t when compared to other competitive U.S. Senate contests in the year 2018.

— A $40-Million Michigan Election That Was Inexpensive In Comparison To Other States
— Michigan's 2018 U.S. Senate Race By The Numbers


The Race For Two Michigan Supreme Court Seats: $3.4 Million

Michigan’s 2018 race for the Supreme Court was defined by what it lacked: It did not see large, under-the-radar spending by groups acting outside of the candidates’ campaigns. That type of spending had been a staple of Supreme Court races in the state for nearly two decades.

— The 2018 Supreme Court Race Was An Oddity. Here’s Why It May Have Played Out That Way.
— 2018 Michigan Supreme Court Race By The Numbers
— Michigan Justices Supported By Opponents Of Redistricting Proposal May Decide Its Fate


The Fight Over Three Ballot Proposals: $31.8 Million

Three ballot proposals were before Michigan voters in November 2018. The main committees supporting them and the main committees opposing them reported raising a combined total of $31.8 million.

However, there were other proposal campaigns that raised large sums but didn't end up on the ballot. If you factor them and their opponents in, about $45.7 million went to proposal campaigns for the 2018 election cycle. According to an analysis of fundraising disclosures, the ballot campaigns and their opponents raised at least $32.3 million from nonprofit organizations that didn’t have to report their own funders.

— Ballot Proposal Campaigns Disclose Their Donors, But 2018 Shows How Little We Actually Know
— The Ballot Proposal Campaigns By The Numbers
— Ballot Proposal To Change How Michigan Draws Its Legislative Districts Attracts Big Dollars, Opposition


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