Midterm election spending nears a record $5 billion, and Democrats outpace Republicans, report finds

The contest between Republican Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale and his Democratic challenger, Katie Hill, in the 25th Congressional District has drawn $16 million in independent spending by outside groups, more than any other House contest in California, a report found.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A surge in donations to Democrats has driven spending on the Nov. 6 election to nearly $5 billion across the nation, shattering the record for a congressional midterm, a nonpartisan research group reported Monday.

The report by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money, found that candidates and allied groups have spent $4.7 billion so far and will probably exceed $5.2 billion by the time the election season ends.

Democrats have far out-raised Republicans. In House contests, Democratic candidates have collected more than $951 million, while their Republican opponents have raised $637 million. In Senate races, Democrats have raised $513 million and Republicans $361 million.


“Whether you’re looking at donations from women, large donors, small donors, dark-money groups, parties or unions, the Democrats are seeing incredible success in fundraising this cycle,” said Sarah Bryner, the center’s research director.

“Whether that money will translate into success on Nov. 6 is an open question, given that money — while essential — is by no means the only factor governing electoral outcomes,” she said.

The previous record for midterm election spending, set four years ago, was $3.8 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4.1 billion.

Much of the spending is not by the candidates but by super PACs and other outside groups.

In California, where at least half a dozen seats now held by Republicans are in play for Democrats, independent spending on House races has hit $74 million, the nonpartisan California Target Book election guide reported Monday.

The outside groups are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates’ campaigns, but their spending can influence the election.


The race drawing the most outside money — more than $16 million — is the one between Republican Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale and his Democratic challenger, Katie Hill, in the 25th Congressional District, based in northern Los Angeles County.

The independent spending, tilted strongly in Hill’s favor, includes $4.5 million in ads now being run on her behalf by Independence USA, the super PAC of former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The main group helping Knight is the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC closely aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). The fund and other GOP groups have spent $5.6 million on Knight’s campaign, according to the Target Book.

Another Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, is getting hammered by attack ads run by Bloomberg, the League of Conservation Voters and others. All told, outside groups backing his Democratic rival Harley Rouda in the 48th Congressional District in coastal Orange County have outspent the ones backing Rohrabacher $10.4 million to $3.7 million, the Target Book found.

Rohrabacher is the only endangered GOP incumbent in the L.A. media market that outside groups have declined to support with expensive advertising on the local broadcast stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Instead, they are helping him with cheaper ads on cable channels with smaller audiences.

Republican Diane Harkey is running for the House seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista in the 49th Congressional District.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The other California contests drawing big money are the races between GOP Rep. Mimi Walters and Democratic rival Katie Porter in the Irvine area; GOP Rep. Jeff Denham and Democratic opponent Josh Harder in the San Joaquin Valley; Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros in the Fullerton area; and Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin in a coastal district straddling San Diego and Orange counties.

In a sign that national GOP leaders have given up on holding the congressional seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, outside groups have spent nothing to support Harkey’s candidacy, but more than $4 million to back Levin, the Target Book reported.

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