Campaign spending breaks records in midterm election cycle

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., speaks to supporters during an election night campaign event Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 11/12/2022 6:00:16 PM

When Lawrence Lessig walked across New Hampshire in January 2014, he had a clear message with his mission to traverse 185 miles in the dead of winter: Campaign finance needs to be reformed, he said at the time, and New Hampshire is the state that can lead that charge.

Lessig, an attorney, author and Harvard University professor, focused on the 2016 presidential elections – over the two-week course of his journey, he urged people to ask any candidate who flocks to the Granite State ahead of the election what they would do to end corruption in Washington, D.C.

His walk was a mere jaunt compared to the 1999-2000 effort by New Hampshire’s Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who starting at age 88 walked 3,200 miles over 14 months with the same urgent warning.

Yet, years after “Granny D” and Lessig’s quests, the 2022 midterm elections signaled New Hampshire has not led the way for campaign finance reform. In fact, it has trended in the opposite direction – with elections in the Granite State contributing to a record-high midterm spending cycle, which nationally exceeded $16 billion.

When Maggie Hassan won her reelection campaign for U.S. Senate Tuesday, the one-term incumbent had raised $38 million. She’d spent $36 million to defeat her challenger, retired Army General Don Bolduc.

Bolduc on the other hand, had raised a fraction of Hassan’s war chest. He ended the campaign having raised $2.2 million and spending $1.9 million of it.

But he didn’t need an arsenal like Hassan’s. Instead, outside spending leveraged the Bolduc campaign to the same financial playing field with $30 million funneling into his campaign for both support and opposition advertisements.

The race between Chris Pappas and Karoline Leavitt for the state’s 1st Congressional District was more evenly matched – with Pappas raising $4 million, against Leavitt’s $3 million, and the two candidates both spent just almost $1 million less than their earnings.

For outside spending, Leavitt saw $10 million additional dollars in assistance, while groups contributed $9.2 million to Pappas.

This is all to say that the midterm elections held a hefty price tag in New Hampshire this cycle. Across all three federal races, almost $170 million dollars were raised and spent by candidates and outside groups. This excludes third-party candidates and those who ran in primary contests.

To understand the scope of $170 million on a local level, it is far more than the city of Concord spends in a fiscal year.

But even with a docket greater than New Hampshire’s capital city, campaign spending in the Granite State did not crack the surface of other competitive Senate states.

In Pennsylvania – where Democrats flipped a Republican held seat in John Fetterman’s defeat of Mehmet Oz – spending on the Senate race alone toppled $374 million dollars.

“No other midterm election has seen as much money at the state and federal levels as the 2022 elections,” said Sheila Krumholz, OpenSecrets’ executive director in a press release. “We’re seeing record-breaking totals spent on elections up and down the ballot.”

New Hampshire’s Senate race ranked ninth in the nation for dollars spent. Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio round out the top five most-expensive races, with each state spending over $200 million on Senate campaigns alone.

In Georgia – where money will continue to flow as Raphael Warnock and Hershel Walker head to a December run-off – each candidate spent $100,000 for two 30-second ads that aired during a college football game up between top-ranked University of Tennessee and the third-ranked University of Georgia.

Warnock also tops the Senate leader board in campaign contributions at $98 million to date.

Record spending this midterm cycle comes on the heels of years of discussions of campaign finance reform.

New Hampshire isn’t new to these conversations, either.

After her famous trek across America, “Granny D” spent her 98th, 99th and 100th birthdays at the New Hampshire State House lobbying for changes to campaign finance.

But years after “Granny D” died in 2010, her message still runs in conflict with the current practices of political spending in the United States. With the United v. Federal Election Commission ruling from the Supreme Court – spending from independent political expenditures, which includes non-profit corporations, are not subject to contribution restrictions.

Now, with a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, and an onslaught of decisions in the last 50 years that solidify the message that money equals speech, Dean Spiliotes, a civic scholar and political scientist at Southern New Hampshire University, is not sure when campaign finance reform will materialize.

He also points to the narrow party lines in Congress, which also present a challenge for any legislative efforts, despite the public messaging from activists like “Granny D.”

“You can have a conversation, but if there is no pragmatic or practical way to get reform through it is not going to happen,” he said.

With the lack of campaign finance reform and the growth of political action committees, from congressional leaders to non-profits, it also means that not only are there more dollars in races, but also actors that are funding these campaigns.

“One of the biggest challenges is how crowded the playing field has become in local elections in a way that it just wasn’t 25 years ago,” he said. “There are so many players and they are spending millions of dollars, and it makes for a very murky electoral process.”

But with no cemented solution for campaign finance regulations, money in politics will be the standard in each race going forward.

“If you can’t change the courts and you don’t have the legislative majorities, there is not much you can do,” he said. “It feels almost like a structural problem, and it is only going to get worse in the foreseeable future. The money is only going to get bigger and bigger.”

Today the records show that the path to winning a race relies on a strategy to outspend the opposition. An Open Secrets Analysis found that the average amount spent by a winning Senate campaign in 2020 was $27 million, a number that was far surpassed by Hassan in the 2022 election.

All data from


Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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