Despite a flood of efforts by outside groups hoping to defeat Barbara Boxer, the three-term Democratic senator significantly outraised her challenger Carly Fiorina and ultimately outspent Fiorina and her allies on the airwaves.
In final campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission a month after Boxer’s victory, the senator reported raising just over $28 million and spending almost all of it over the course of the campaign. Fiorina raised $22.6 million and spent more than $22 million, including a $1-million personal loan to the campaign that was repaid.
Fiorina’s tally also included more than $5.5 million that the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive gave to her campaign during the contested GOP primary. Without a primary opponent, Boxer was able to spend most of her money during the general election campaign.
Boxer’s campaign had believed that one of their biggest threats was Fiorina’s personal wealth, estimated at between $27.7 million and $121 million in reports filed with the secretary of the Senate. Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said one of the biggest surprises of the campaign was that Fiorina “never wrote the really big check.” The $1-million loan was made during the general election, but was paid back before the end of the campaign.
Without major personal spending by Fiorina, Boxer ended up with an advantage over her foe on television despite the more than $8.8 million in outside ads targeting Boxer that her campaign tracked. There were fewer independent expenditures targeting Fiorina — the biggest reported was a $1.1-million ad buy paid for by Emily’s List, which raises money for female candidates who support abortion rights.
“At the beginning of the cycle, most people thought outside groups would ignore California because of the incredibly high cost, but in the end … they came in with millions,” Kapolczynski said. “We’re lucky that we had such committed donors that we were able to match them and in the end outspend them.... We raised millions more than we had counted on.”
Fiorina’s spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said the campaign always knew it was facing an uphill battle, challenging a well-funded incumbent with a large donor base — and who did not have a contested primary.
“The fact that outside groups decided to spend an unprecedented amount of money to defeat Barbara Boxer demonstrated the fact that this race was competitive,” Soderlund said. “But ultimately the inherent advantages afforded to incumbents are very, very difficult to overcome, especially in a state where Democratic registration is much higher than Republican registration.”
With her well-financed treasury, Boxer’s campaign was able to spend about $14 million on television advertising during the general election phase — more than half of it in the Los Angeles media market — compared with the $4.8 million spent on ads by Fiorina’s campaign, the final reports indicated.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also each spent the maximum allowed amount of $4.8 million in coordinated expenditures on their respective candidates — money primarily spent on ads. The Democratic committee quietly made its move in the final three weeks to help secure Boxer’s reelection bid.
The Republican committee also boosted Fiorina’s television spending with a $2.76-million independent expenditure during the final week of the campaign — meaning Fiorina and the committee spent a total of more than $12 million on ads while Boxer and the Democratic committee spent nearly $20 million on ads.
Federal election reports also show an additional $7.4 million in spending by outside groups (not including the Republican committee’s independent expenditure), but that does not provide a full accounting of money spent independently from the campaigns and the national parties to influence the race.
For example, the $1-million ad buy aimed at Boxer by Crossroads GPS, the outside group affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, was spent on an issue ad criticizing her record on healthcare, and thus does not appear as an independent expenditure in FEC reports.
Among the outside groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the dominant player, pouring more than $3.7 million into ads opposing Boxer. A bevy of other groups weighed in with smaller expenditures. The National Organization for Marriage and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List stepped in with ads to help Fiorina among Latino voters. And the National Rifle Assn. spent at least $250,000 to help Fiorina through mail, phone banking and a radio ad.
But Boxer got some outside aid as well, including from labor unions. Outside groups spent more than $2 million on independent expenditures either supporting Boxer or opposing Fiorina. During the final few weeks, a number of abortion rights groups stepped in to help the three-term senator who has been among their champions throughout her career. Planned Parenthood groups alone spent more than half a million dollars on phone banking, radio ads and Internet ads.
Ultimately, all those groups helped Boxer cement her 10-point margin of victory — raising questions about whether Republican groups will be as willing to pour money into another California Senate race, given that they were unable this year to take advantage of the odds in their favor .
“I think we are starting to feel like California is an island nation,” said UC San Diego Professor Thad Kousser. “The national groups have gone back and forth on whether to spend money in California because it costs so much more.... This is yet another example of why national Republican money can simply be wasted in California — and you have wasted a lot of it.”