Capital Beat: A cheat sheet of the biggest spenders in Ayotte, Hassan Senate race

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 10/8/2016 11:26:58 PM

Go to the Granite State Solutions PAC website, and it’s clear they oppose Democrat Maggie Hassan.

But who exactly “they” are is much harder to find.

The super PAC has become the top outside spender in what will likely become the most expensive U.S. Senate race in state history. Experts anticipate the contest between Hassan and Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte will draw upwards of $100 million in spending. (Just for comparison, that sum is $19 million more than what the state gave the university system in 2016 and almost 17 times what the state spent to repair local bridges.)

Granite State Solutions has already poured more than $12.7 million into ads, according to a calculation by ProPublica. Despite the group’s Granite State moniker, most of the group’s money comes from outside New Hampshire. At least $1.5 million is from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and $1 million more comes from the Massachusetts-based chairman of New Balance, Jim Davis.

But the big bucks aren’t just coming from one political party – it’s bipartisan.

The second highest spender in the U.S. race is a left-leaning group based out of Washington called Senate Majority PAC. It has, so far, spent more than $9 million boosting Hassan, according to the ProPublica tally. Another large chunk of outside spending is coming from pro-gun control groups that oppose Ayotte.

Both Hassan and Ayotte agree money in politics should be limited, but the talk hasn’t amounted to much action. The two couldn’t agree on a pledge to keep third-party money out of their race. Hassan declined to sign the “people’s pledge” Ayotte offered – one that was used in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown. Hassan came back with a “strengthened” pledge that would not only limit outside money, but cap what each candidate could spend at $15 million. But the two couldn’t agree, a pledge was never signed and money continues to pour in.

Hassan has benefited from more outside money than Ayotte, according to a tally from the Center for Responsive Politics. Third-party spending broke the $50 million mark this week, and almost $30 million has been spent boosting Hassan’s election chances. Roughly $24.5 million has been spent on Ayotte’s behalf.

As you can imagine, the bulk of the spending is negative. While a combined $7.1 million has been spent in support of the candidates’ messages, a whopping $47 million has gone into ads or campaign mailers that oppose one of the women, according to the center’s numbers.

Here is a cheat sheet of the biggest outsider spenders in the race.

1) Granite State Solutions PAC has so far spent more than $12 million. The PAC formed in 2015 to support Ayotte, and is run by the Republican’s former campaign manager Brooks Kochvar. Most of the group’s money comes from Washington-based Senate Leadership PAC, which is linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The five individuals who donated to the group, according to the FEC, come from as far as Texas, and as close as Massachusetts. Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate, gave $1.5 million to Granite State Solutions PAC. Adelson is a major Republican donor known for his pro-Israel stance. He endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in an op-ed this spring, and urged members of his party to fall in line behind the businessman. An additional $1 million comes from Davis, chairman of New Balance shoes. Jay Faison, a North Carolina businessman, gave $500,000 to the effort and has supported Republicans this cycle who back climate change action, according to the New York Times. Finally, a House “homemaker” gave $25,000 and Richie Ray, owner of a compounding pharmacy in Texas, donated $10,000.

2) The Senate Majority PAC has spent at least $9.4 million on the race. The group aims to put Democrats back in control of the U.S. Senate, and is spending on races nationwide. The PAC has been especially focused on the New Hampshire race, which would tip party control of the chamber. The group’s first ad of the cycle targeted Ayotte. Contributions to the PAC come from across the country, and just a handful of small-scale donors are from the Granite State, according to Federal Election Commission filings. They include Martha Fuller Clark, a Seacoast state senator, who gave a couple thousand dollars. The Senate Majority PAC draws most of its money from labor unions and wealthy individuals, including billionaire investor George Soros and his son, Alex.

3) The National Republican Senatorial Committee, or NRSC, is the third-highest spender with $6.2 million, according to the ProPublica tally. Similarly, the group’s goal is to keep Republicans in power on Capitol Hill. And the NRSC clearly thinks the New Hampshire race is critical; it has spent more money on the Ayotte-Hassan matchup than any other Senate contest in the country.

A number of donations come from New Hampshire, including from Patricia Humphrey, wife of former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey.

The PAC it most well-known here for the controversial television ads it has aired that accuse Hassan of mismanaging the state’s opioid crisis. One features local recovery advocate Melissa Crews, who faced pushback over the appearance and recently resigned from the board of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery. Ayotte has called for some of these ads to come down, but none, so far, have been pulled off the air.

4) Independence USA PAC has funneled at least $3.3 million into the race, making it the fourth highest spender. The committee was formed and funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It backs “moderates” on both sides of the aisle, according to its website, who address gun violence and support “efforts to crack down on illegal guns.” Hassan is one of three candidates the PAC is aiding this election cycle, in addition to the clean power plan. The PAC is one of several focused on reforming gun laws. Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has spent $2.5 million opposing Ayotte. Giffords was shot in the head during a 2011 mass shooting at her campaign rally in Tucson. Giffords founded the PAC with her husband, retired Navy veteran and astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 elementary school students dead. ​

5) Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is the fifth highest spender in the race, having dished out $2.7 million to oppose Ayotte. Similarly to the NRSC, the DSCC promotes Democrats in the U.S. Senate. The group has spent more money this cycle only on the Nevada Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Condom sense

A conservative group is accusing Ayotte of encouraging “wanton, meaningless sex,” after her campaign distributed free condoms at a local college campus.

It “degrades the dignity of both women and men and the ultimate marriage relationship that sex should ideally be reserved for,” said Rico McCahon, executive director of Cornerstone Action.

Ayotte’s team handed out contraception at the University of New Hampshire next to a sign that said, “use condom sense!” The tactic was panned by Democrats, who accused Ayotte of trying to rewrite her record, and now it’s come under fire from the right. Ayotte “may in fact lose supporters who feel she has betrayed the institution of the family and the conservative principles to which she’s paid lip service,” McCahon warned.

Pledge

Republicans in the House are making moves to ensure they won’t see a speaker’s race like the controversial one last session, when the GOP choice was defeated by a member of his own party.

A coalition of 40 representatives sent a letter to Speaker Shawn Jasper last week requesting he support the candidate picked by the Republican caucus.

“In the interests of a united Republican caucus as well as good governance, my colleagues and I request that you publicly declare your commitment to supporting the Republican nominee selected on Organization Day, should you lose the nomination,” the letter said.

Republicans picked former Speaker Bill O’Brien to run in 2014, but Jasper submitted his name from the floor and defeated the Mont Vernon representative with support from Democrats.

“I fully expect to be the nominee,” Jasper said in response to the letter. “Right now I am concentrating on getting as many Republicans elected to the House as possible.”

Should Republicans maintain control of the House, Jasper plans to seek a second term as Speaker. But he faces stiff competition. Both Reps. Carol McGuire and Laurie Sanborn have announced plans to run.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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