Congressional candidates poured about $300 million of their own money into self-funding campaigns in the 2022 midterm election cycle but few ultimately won their races, a new OpenSecrets analysis found.
According to year-end disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, the majority of the self-funding candidates were Republicans, investing around $211 million of their own money into the contest. Democratic candidates, on the other hand, self-funded $86 million.
Self-financing made up 8% of the record $3.6 trillion of total campaign funds raised by federal candidates during the 2022 election cycle.
Self-funding candidates were some of the biggest losers this election cycle, with only two out of the top 10 self-funding candidates pulling through a win. Both winners were House candidates, while the eight who lost ran for Senate seats.
Physician and TV personality Mehmet Oz, who ran for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican, poured more money into self-funding than any other federal candidate in the last election cycle. Oz poured in about $26.8 million of his money in his unsuccessful Senate bid, accounting for over half what he raised overall. His Democratic opponent in the closely watched Pennsylvania race, now-Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), raised more than Oz at around $75 million, all of which came from PACs and individual donors.
Pennsylvania’s federal elections attracted more self-funding than any other state in 2022, with $52.8 million contributed or loaned from the candidates themselves, constituting over one-fifth of all campaign money raised by congressional candidates in the state and those who dropped out of the race. Another top self-funder, Dave McCormick, poured nearly $14.4 million into his Senate bid last year, but lost in the Republican primary to Oz.
In the 2022 election cycle, incumbent Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) contributed $12.5 million to his campaign, which made up 95% of all the campaign money he raised. His competitor Neil Parrott (R-Md.), who lost by about 2,000 votes, raised around $1 million — none of which was self-funded. Trone, a wine retailer, previously made history when he set the record for the most expensive self-funded House campaign in 2016, spending over $12 million on an unsuccessful campaign.
Entrepreneur-turned-politician Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) loaned his 2022 campaign nearly $6.2 million, accounting for over 98% of his total campaign funds. Thanedar’s main challenger was Martell Bivings (R-Mich.), a multimillionaire whose 2022 campaign raised $99,790, only $5,000 of which was self-funded. The multimillionaire previously spent $10.6 million from his own pocket on an unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2018.
Other big self-funders who lost Senate bids in 2022 included Jim Lamon of Arizona and Mike Gibbons of Ohio, Republican candidates who both lost their respective primaries. Lamon and Gibbons each spent over $18 million, self-funding over 95% of their campaigns.
The success rates of self-funding
Of the 44 candidates who spent more than $1 million on self-funding their congressional campaigns, 33 were Republicans, 10 Democrats and one independent. Their self-funding totaled just over $221.2 million, and the 44 candidates self-financed 73% of all their campaign money.
Seven of the 44 self-funding candidates won seats in Congress, constituting a success rate of 15.9%, a rate lower than in previous cycles.
The median amount of self-funding disclosed by all 2,610 congressional candidates running in 2022 elections was $970, and some candidates did not contribute to their own campaigns at all. Most candidates do not rely on self-funding, and it makes up only a small fraction of their campaign money.
Of the 1,104 candidates who didn’t put money into their campaigns during the last election cycle, 405 of the 475 House and Senate candidates won. Winners who did not self-fund at all during the 2022 cycle include influential names such as House Speaker. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The remaining 70 seats went to candidates who self-funded as little as $5 and up to Trone’s level of $12.5 million, and the median self-funding amount for those who won was $10,558.
A 2016 study of state-level candidates by the National Institute of Money in Politics, now part of OpenSecrets, found that the more candidates relied on their own money, the lower their success rate.
Peter Quist, deputy research director at OpenSecrets, said this might be because many self-financing candidates try to engage the average voter through television and other broadcast ads, which is a lot less personal way to engage with the public than knocking on doors.
“What happens here probably is that these [self-financing] candidates are running campaigns that are broadcast based, and not running campaigns that are really grassroots based,” Quist said. “So they’re not raising contributions outside of their own self-financing to a large degree. They’re not building that network.”
When a candidate’s campaign is more engaged with the average voter, it will secure more contributions.
“Campaign donations, even if they’re a $5 contribution, are going to come from somebody who’s going to vote for you,” Quist said. “So it’s kind of a way to make somebody invested in the campaign.”