At the start of 2022, pundits predicted a Republican “red wave” during the midterm elections, FTX CEO and newly-minted megadonor Sam Bankman-Fried was a darling on Capitol Hill, Russia was ramping up its influence operation in the United States and federal abortion rights were still protected under Roe v. Wade.
But as 2022 drew to a close, the red wave turned into a red ripple despite massive spending by federal Republican candidates and aligned outside groups. Federal prosecutors charged Bankman-Fried with several counts of fraud and campaign finance violations. K Street firms cut ties with Russia after it invaded Ukraine. And the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal right to an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Through it all, OpenSecrets followed the money shaping U.S. policies and politics. Here’s a look back at some of our top stories.
Most expensive midterm ever
Midterm elections drove the news in 2022, and OpenSecrets projected the total cost of state and federal midterm elections to exceed $16.7 billion during the 2022 election cycle.
State-level candidates, party committees and ballot measure committees were projected to raise $7.8 billion during the two-year cycle. Groups spending to influence state ballot measures across the country raised over $945 million in the leadup to Election Day with the two most expensive ballot measures in California.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a rumored 2024 GOP presidential hopeful, faced off against former Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in the state’s gubernatorial general election race. The incumbent governor ultimately broke the national gubernatorial fundraising record before winning reelection, raking in $214.9 million between his campaign and state-level PAC.
Federal candidates and political committees were projected to spend $8.9 billion, blowing past the inflation-adjusted 2018 midterm record of $7.1 billion.
OpenSecrets continued to cover the hottest and most expensive races, diving into the outside spending pouring into Pennsylvania’s contentious U.S. Senate race and third-party brokers selling personal data to federal campaigns, just to name a few.
No federal race in the 2022 election cycle saw more money than the U.S. Senate race in Georgia where spending by general election candidates and outside groups skyrocketed to $402.7 million. Incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won the money race and, ultimately, won reelection after a tight runoff.
“Dark money” groups that don’t disclose spending to the Federal Election Commission spent even more.
Dark money played a big role in 2022 federal elections, though little of that spending was disclosed to the FEC. Instead, these secretly-funded groups — including dark money groups aligned with Senate and House leadership — steered hundreds of millions of dollars to super PACs and spent on ads that boost or attack candidates without explicitly calling for their election or defeat.
Dark money groups connected to officials in former President Donald Trump’s administration bankrolled provocative ads ahead of 2022 midterms, including divisive ads effectively trying to pit non-white communities against each other.
OpenSecrets also dug into “pop-up” super PACs in Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee and New Hampshire that spent millions of dollars on elections but only disclosed their donors — which were, in some cases, dark money groups — after voters went to the polls.
New Hampshire also featured one of the first Generation Z Americans to run for federal office. Karoline Leavitt – a former assistant press secretary during the Trump administration – won her primary despite massive outside spending by GOP House leadership boosting her moderate opponent. Although leadership pivoted to back Leavitt in the general election, she lost to incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas (D–N.H.).
But Gen Z is still heading to Congress, as Florida’s 10th Congressional District elected Maxwell Frost. The 25-year-old Democrat and former March for our Lives national organizing director was backed and bankrolled by progressive groups and members of Congress.
Election deniers raised record funds but were largely unsuccessful
Candidates embracing conspiracy theories — including that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump – and opposition to those candidates drove fundraising in races across the country.
Groups aligned with the Democratic Party spent over $44 million on advertising campaigns across at least five states’ Republican primaries to boost the profile of far-right candidates. While Democrats did not succeed in getting the far-right candidate the GOP nominee in every race, races where candidates who expressed support for Trump’s stolen election lies and other conspiracy theories made it to the general election largely resulted in election of Democrats.
Secretary of state candidates across the United States reported raising a collective $72 million during the 2022 election cycle, a record haul when adjusted for inflation, according to OpenSecrets data.
The America First Secretary of State Coalition – a coalition of Republican candidates touting disproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump – launched to help elect candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and would be positioned to influence the outcome of future elections, including the 2024 presidential race.
Ron Watkins, a central figure in the QAnon conspiracy movement who ran for Congress in Arizona as a Republican, reported making a $95,000 loan to his campaign. His congressional bid was ultimately unsuccessful.
Reverberations of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, also continued to make headlines in 2022.
As the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol and the Justice Department probed the events around the insurrection, OpenSecrets followed the money.
Trump’s political operation continued to pay individuals and firms involved in organizing the rally that preceded the deadly Capitol attack.
OpenSecrets continued to unearth payments from Trump’s political operation to Jan. 6 organizers, expose money behind GOP candidates who participated in the Jan. 6 rally and track corporate PAC contributions to election objectors.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) emerged as a leader in the House investigation into the Capitol attack and became a target of many in her own Republican Party. While her fundraising continued to boom — largely from out of state donors — Cheney ultimately lost Wyoming’s GOP primary to Trump-endorsed Republican challenger Harriet Hageman.
Cheney’s campaign operation has since turned into a PAC and she acknowledged that she’s thinking about mounting a presidential campaign — but she’s not the only one.
Possible presidential contenders who’ve been rumored to have 2024 ambitions have raised over $591 million since January 2021 through their aligned political operations — which include super PACs, leadership PACs and congressional reelection campaigns.
Trump was the first candidate to announce his 2024 presidential bid. Although his political operation raked in $117.6 million through Oct. 19, that money is out of reach, as the former president will only be able to access about $13.5 million available in his joint fundraising committees.
Unprecedented federal lobbying spending
The year kicked off with an unprecedented $1 billion in federal first quarter lobbying spending, driven up by billionaire-owned aerospace companies, tax prep service providers, multinational tech companies, the marijuana industry and defense contractors.
Federal lobbying topped $3 billion through the third quarter for the first time ever. While a bipartisan proposal to ban corporate PACs gained momentum, the legislation ultimately did not pass in 2022.
Deadly shootings across the country continued to spur debate related to guns. Gun rights groups continued to outspend gun control groups on lobbying and also poured more money into political contributions.
As debates over gun control legislation raged, the Supreme Court made the historic decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The abortion rights group Planned Parenthood saw a massive influx in federal contributions and spent an unprecedented sum on lobbying during the second quarter of the year, around the time of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Registered lobbyists for foreign governments and entities also raked in hundreds of millions of dollars to exert influence in Washington, D.C.
Following the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, OpenSecrets covered the money surrounding the conflict. OpenSecrets has covered Russia pouring millions in political influence and lobbying, lobbyists severing ties with companies partnering on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Russian oligarchs’ influence in the U.S.
Qatar flexed its extensive U.S. lobbying and influence operation as it geared up to host the 2022 World Cup, overshadowing human rights concerns. An OpenSecrets analysis found arms sales from the U.S. to the Gulf State soared after FIFA awarded it the 2022 World Cup in 2010.
Sports diplomacy also played a big role in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. OpenSecrets revealed that the Chinese government hired a firm to recruit social media influencers as part of digital operations amid controversies surrounding diplomatic boycotts of the event, and covered its corporate sponsors.
Outreach and Digital Media Manager Kelly Kauffman contributed to this report.