By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Oct. 21, 2020) — About $47 million is going to be spent in the next seven days on Michigan airwaves, according to data from Advertising Analytics and the Federal Communications Commission analyzed by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).
This is an extraordinary amount of money even within a year of unprecedented spending flooding into crucial races in Michigan for the U.S. House and Senate. It’s a nearly $9 million increase from the week prior, when more than 31,000 ads ran, as key races have appeared to tighten and the end of election season looms. That’s the sharpest increase in spending aside from the beginning of early voting in late September.
It’s not because Michiganders are generously contributing to their preferred candidates. Outside groups and dark money organizations are outspending campaigns two-to-one. Twenty-two different groups, excluding the campaigns, will be running presidential ads. Twelve will be running ads for the U.S. Senate race.
In total at least $19.2 million will be spent on the U.S. Senate race this week alone, a number that considerably exceeded MCFN’s projections. The race has become the dominant force on Michigan airwaves, exceeding even the presidential election’s spending of $16.5 million. (Report continues after break.)
Democratic anxiety and Republican hopes in the race, where a decent portion of key demographics remain undecided, has prompted an influx of advertising spending. The largest dark money organizations supporting incumbent Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Hills) and Republican challenger John James, Senate Majority PAC and Senate Leadership Fund, respectively, are outspending the campaigns they’ve backed by considerable margins.
A congressional filing deadline tomorrow will provide a better picture of just how much the campaigns have left in pocket for a final appeal to voters.
Still if the spending in the Senate race is symbolic of how things have tightened, the spending in U.S. House races would indicate worsening prospects for Republicans. While Michigan’s 8th and 11th congressional districts received the lion’s share of spending in 2018, well-funded incumbent Democrats are playing stalwart defense and outside groups have largely pulled out of those races for Republicans.
Republican Paul Junge is being outspent more than 10-to-1 this week by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and the PACs supporting her in the 8th. Next week Democrats have $1.6 million reserved, with half of it coming from dark money. So far Junge is now going it alone and plans to spend just a little more than $83,000.
In the 11th, incumbent Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) and the groups supporting her have begun outspending Republican Eric Esshaki by similarly uneven proportions. Spending in that district had previously been competitive, with the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) matching or besting Stevens’ campaign, but now House Majority PAC (HMP) and Independence USA PAC are kicking in for Stevens. Together they’ll spend nearly $1.2 million this week compared to Republicans’ $115,000. Next week Democrats have $1.4 million reserved while Republicans have not reserved any airtime.
Instead, it’s the 3rd district where Democrats appear to be eyeing a potential pickup. The Cook Political Report changed the race to “Toss Up” status this week, and it has been the U.S. House race with the highest broadcast spending in Michigan each of the last three weeks.
Here the spending is neck-and-neck. The CLF and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) will be backing Republican Peter Meijer with ads through the election while HMP will be supporting Democrat Hillary Scholten. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had previously been running ads for Scholten but ceased as soon as HMP jumped in, showing that while these groups cannot legally coordinate, there is some synchronization in their movements. Despite Scholten’s campaign spending more than twice as much as Meijer’s this week, about $1.1 million will be spent to support Meijer, compared to a little less than $900,000 for Scholten.
Nearly all of these outside groups in the House and Senate races, save for the NRCC and DCCC, are dark money organizations and these totals underscore just how much their help can upend the financial landscape of a race.
In the final stretch of an election, advertising purchases and campaign spending are fluid and change daily, meaning more of a challenge can be mounted in districts that have lopsided spending now. This total by no means reflects the total election spending this week, which will be significantly higher. There won’t be a detailed picture of the money spent on canvassing, phonebanking, mailers, social media and a litany of other costs from the final stretch of campaigning until well after the election.
Despite that, the question is no longer whether a record amount of money has been spent in this election. It’s just a matter of learning to what extent that record has been smashed.