A little more than a decade ago, a primary election campaign for state Senate in Michigan that reached the $300,000 mark in overall spending was considered rather spectacular.
This year, six Senate campaigns exceeded half a million dollars in combined spending and four of those topped $600,000, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).
The big jump was partly due to the increasing influence of outside groups in state legislative races, such as PACs and political nonprofits, but candidates who spent big bucks from their own wallets were also a factor. On the other hand, despite a large number of open seats, the Senate sits well down the list of key campaign targets in 2018 among the two parties as the Republicans hold a commanding 27-10 edge, with one vacancy.
Nonetheless, with a number of current (mostly term-limited) and former state House members clawing for a chance to nab a Senate post, the spending spree in 2018 would have been unthinkable just four years ago, the last time the 38 Senate seats were on the ballot.
The MCFN, a nonpartisan watchdog group, noted that the 2014 spending totals were considered unusually high after three races exceeded $400,000 in combined campaign expenditures. Those totals don’t include groups working independently to elect candidates.
In 2018, the numbers are through the roof even though they’re not final. The spending from the final weeks of the primary campaigns, from July 21 to Election Day on Aug. 7, have not yet been reported. A $700,000 total certainly seems possible when all the bookkeeping is complete.
At $678,000, the Democratic primary in the 18th District (the Ann Arbor area) topped the current list compiled by MCFN. Former House member Jeff Irwin won that contest despite being outspent by one of his opponents.
Second on the list was the Republican primary in the 30th District in west Michigan, at $664,000. The aptly named Roger Victory, a member of the House, won that shootout.
Next was the nearby 34th District in the southwestern area of the state, where the price tag for the Republican primary hit $615,000. State Rep. Holly Hughes, who has battled in several expensive House races in recent years, spent a bit more than $400,000 but lost to former House member Jon Bumstead.
The fourth $600,000-plus race was fought in the Battle Creek area, in the 19th District’s GOP primary. Overall, $614,000 was dished out but the difference may have been the $190,000 in personal funds contributed by Rep. John Bizon, who won the election.
Photo collage: MCFN