March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, an annual celebration aimed at promoting transparency. This story is part of a series highlighting OpenSecrets’ work to shine a light on key areas related to money in politics at the state and federal level.
As the last state-level campaign finance disclosures for 2021 and 2022 elections are collected, OpenSecrets projects state-level political committees raised a record $7.4 billion. Federal political spending reached $8.9 billion, pushing the total cost of state and federal midterms to more than $16.4 billion, slightly down from OpenSecrets’ pre-election projection.
Candidate, party committee and ballot measure committee fundraising has already reached almost $6.9 billion during the 2022 election cycle, approaching the $7 billion inflation-adjusted record from 2018. PAC and super PAC fundraising are excluded from this analysis because variations in state committee classifications and poor or inconsistent disclosure requirements create challenges in collecting or comparing these data across states. Because of the large number and variable formats of state campaign finance reporting, the last of the reports are still being collected for the 2022 cycle.
State candidate fundraising figures are projected to reach about $5 billion, and Republican candidates and party committees continue to slightly outpace their Democratic counterparts. Party committee fundraising exceeded $1.1 billion and ballot measure committees attracted more than $1.3 billion.
The small Republican fundraising edge comes primarily from candidate campaigns, with state-level Republican candidates projected to raise more than $2.5 billion while Democrats are projected to raise nearly $2.4 billion. OpenSecrets projects state party committees raised about $570 million each for 2021 and 2022.
Gubernatorial contests smash fundraising records in 2022 cycle
Thirty-eight states — including two in 2021 — held gubernatorial races this election cycle. Gubernatorial candidate fundraising easily exceeded past cycles and reached $2 billion for the first time. Overall, Republican gubernatorial candidates continue to hold the edge over Democrats, at $1.3 billion to $1 billion, respectively.
Texas, a state with no contribution limits, claimed the mantle of most expensive gubernatorial election this cycle. Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) raked in $158.4 million, while former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) campaign reported raising $80.3 million. Abbott defeated O’Rourke by nine percentage points in a relatively close general election for the usually reliably Republican Lone Star State.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) smashed the gubernatorial fundraising record in his reelection bid, raising $37.7 million in his official campaign committee and a stunning $173 million in his Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC. The incumbent governor squared off against — and significantly outraised — Democratic challenger former U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) in the general election.
Both DeSantis and Crist capitalized on state campaign finance laws that let candidates fundraise for and control political committees that can support their election campaigns. Since these political committees are not official candidate committees, they are not subject to contribution limits. The leftover funds in DeSantis’ state-level PAC could be used for independent spending to support his potential presidential campaign in 2024.
Most of the money in the Illinois gubernatorial race came from incumbent Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Pritzker’s campaign reported receiving $159 million during the 2022 cycle, with the vast majority coming from Pritzker himself. Pritzker also heavily self-financed his 2018 gubernatorial bid.
Key state office races rake in record cash in 2021 and 2022
Candidates for attorney general broke $217 million raised in 2021 and 2022 elections for the first cycle ever. Texas took the top spot with $37 million in campaign fundraising, due primarily to the heated primary battle between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and challenger George Prescott Bush.
Attorneys general are often tasked with representing the state in court cases, ensuring environmental laws are followed and other aspects of state statutory and constitutional enforcement. These key state officials may also lead or defend legal challenges to election results.
Massachusetts came in second among attorney general candidate fundraising at nearly $27.8 million. The action here was in the Democratic primary between Shannon Liss-Riordan and Andrea Campbell. Virginia’s 2021 election came in third, at $19.4 million.
Across the country’s attorney general races, Democrats lead Republicans in fundraising at $111 million to $104 million as the final reports come in and the numbers begin to crystallize.
In an age where election results are rejected and baseless claims of fraud are increasingly common, the historically-sleepy races for secretary of state have taken on new life. Several of the top states are toss-up states for statewide and presidential elections, elections the secretaries of state will administer.
Secretary of state candidates disclosed more than twice as many contribution transactions on reports filed in 2022 as they did in 2018, the previous record. Fundraising totals for the 2022 cycle have already exceeded $80 million, shattering the 2018 record of $53.8 million, adjusted for inflation. The 2022 number will also creep upward as the data for these races is finalized.
Democratic secretary of state candidates held a clear lead in the 27 races held in 2022 with Democrats raising $46.6 million to Republicans’ $33.5 million.
Some of those have seen previous secretary of state candidate fundraising records easily exceeded by 2022 elections, including in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan. Secretary of state candidates in Illinois raised more than their counterparts in any other state, predominantly due to Democrat Alexi Giannoulias pulling in nearly $10 million in his successful bid for the open seat.
California sets ballot measure record on failed online sports betting initiative
Committees supporting or opposing ballot measures in 2021 and 2022 raised $1.3 billion. Sixty-two measures in states across the country covered issues including abortion, cannabis use and online sports betting.
The two most expensive ballot measures by far came out of California, where voters failed to pass two sports betting initiatives. Groups supporting and opposing Proposition 27, which would have legalized online and mobile sports betting, raised over $407.4 million — making it the most expensive ballot measure campaign in the state’s history. Groups raised more than $238 million to oppose the measure while supporters raised $170 million.
Several groups funded by California Indian tribes and tribal organizations that spent to oppose Proposition 27 also spent to support Proposition 26, a ballot measure that would have legalized sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos but was ultimately unsuccessful. Proposition 26 was the second most expensive measure in the country in the 2022 cycle.
OpenSecrets’ analysis of total state-level fundraising examines fundraising and spending by state candidates, parties and ballot measure committees for elections held in 2021 and 2022, and treats elections in these years as elections in a 2022 cycle. The 2022 cycle is compared to previous two-year cycles that coincide with federal midterm election years.
To project fundraising figures for the current cycle, OpenSecrets compared previous cycle contributions documented through March 6 to those cycles’ final totals to determine a projection ratio for each type of fundraiser.
Fundraising by sitting officeholders not running for election in the 2022 cycle are excluded from this analysis, since they are not directly relevant to the elections in the current cycle.
OpenSecrets continues to finalize collection of campaign finance reports from the 2022 election, so numbers are subject to changes.
Historical figures in this report are adjusted for inflation.
Senior Data Analyst Brendan Glavin, Editorial and Investigations Manager Anna Massoglia and Money-in-Politics Reporter Taylor Giorno contributed to this report.