Thursday, July 19, 2018
Politics

Perspective: GOP sweep of state seats fueled by national money

TALLAHASSEE

The single biggest benefactor of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign also was crucial in clinching races from Maine to Michigan, bringing the number of Republicans in governor's mansions to a nearly two-decade peak.

The Republican Governors Association contributed $18.5 million to Scott, a record amount from the Washington, D.C., fundraising organization, but a fraction of the $130 million it spent nationwide.

RGA spent $14 million to help re-elect Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. It helped secure another four years for embattled Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback by contributing $5 million. And it spent $27 million flipping what had been Democratic strongholds in Massachusetts, Maryland, Arkansas and Illinois.

With RGA's massive fundraising, Republicans picked up two more governor's mansions Tuesday, padding their lead over Democrats to 31-18, the most lopsided balance in 17 years.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court 2010 ruling in Citizens United allowed unlimited contributions to third-party groups like RGA, Republicans have taken the upper hand over Democrats in steering money into races for governor, state legislature and attorney general.

A Times/Herald review of state and national campaign finance records show third-party groups RGA, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Republican Attorneys General Association together raised $91 million from January to Sept. 30. Their Democratic counterparts raised $57 million.

The combined 2014 amounts are 40 percent greater than four years ago and more than triple what was raised in 2006.

"It's beyond the valley of the absurd," said GOP strategist Rick Wilson. "It's incredible."

Republicans had a 60-40 edge eight years ago over Democrats and still do. But as the fundraising levels for state races climb, the GOP financial edge is more conspicuous and critical.

In Florida, the Democratic Governors Association contributed a record amount to Charlie Crist's campaign. But that $6.4 million contribution — $2 million more than it gave Alex Sink in 2010 — was still only a third of what RGA contributed to Scott.

"It really comes down to the money," said Democratic consultant Christian Ulvert. "RGA has access to what is becoming unlimited dollars. They're pumping it in so fast that we're having to fight back harder."

Focusing on the states is nothing new for the GOP.

"Republicans figured out a long time ago that if you take over state Capitols, you can do things that are vastly more consequential," said Wilson.

In a post-Citizens United world where there are no limits on contributions, the Republican advantage among corporate donors is getting insurmountable.

Sometimes, companies hedge their bets and give to both sides, but usually Republicans get more. Exxon gave $500,000 to RGA and $125,000 to DGA this year. Wal-Mart gave $250,000 to each.

But overwhelmingly, corporations and wealthy individuals who write the bigger checks prefer the Republicans' probusiness, antiregulation policies.

So RGA gets $2.5 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, $2.5 million from David Koch, $1.35 million from hedge fund manager Paul Singer and $2 million from the private equity firm KSL Capital Partners.

Democrats have fewer deep pockets. DGA got $1.3 million from the United Auto Workers and $500,000 from the Teamsters, but not many other big checks. Between July 1 and Sept. 30, DGA got 1,500 more contributions than RGA. But RGA raised more because it averaged $31,552 per contribution to DGA's $9,380.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which finances legislative and judicial races nationwide, raised $12 million up to Sept. 30, about 25 percent more than its Democratic counterpart.

On Tuesday, Republicans won control over 4,100 of the nation's 7,383 state legislative seats, the most since 1920, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Republicans now control 30 legislatures, while Democrats control 11. The rest are divided.

Florida's House is now one of 16 legislative chambers that Republicans control with a supermajority, making their power veto-proof. The RSLC contributed nearly $600,000 to legislative races in Florida. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee gave just $9,000.

Republicans raised four times what Democrats did for attorneys general races. On Tuesday, Florida's Pam Bondi was one of 19 Republican attorneys general to win. Only 12 Democrats did.

"There's no doubt that right-wing donors understand that to achieve their narrow goals of lowering their own taxes, eliminating regulatory rules of the road, and busting unions, the path isn't through Washington," said DGA spokesman Danny Kanner. "Democrats need to come to the same realization on issues important to middle-class families, otherwise we'll all be living in Mitt Romney's America no matter our success in presidential races."

Contact Michael Van Sickler at (850) 224-7263. Follow @mikevansickler.

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