In the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history, many wealthy candidates poured ample amounts of their own cash into their campaigns. In most cases, these candidates still lost.
Self-funders range from billionaire presidential hopefuls to perennial self-funding candidates, to wealthy Georgia businesswoman Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is fighting in a runoff to keep the seat she was appointed to.
Loeffler self-financed $23.3 million, according to OpenSecrets data. With no clear victor following Election Day, Loeffler will face Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock, who has never held office before, in a Jan. 5 runoff election.
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Georgia candidates must win a majority of the vote in order to claim an election, according to state laws. With 98 percent reporting as of Wednesday according to the Associated Press, Loeffler and Warnock received 25.9 and 32.9 percent of the vote, respectively. This placed them in the top two slots in a crowded 21-person “jungle primary.”
On Nov. 5, Warnock aired a satirical TV ad warning voters that “the negative ads are coming.” And he was right.
More than $1 million of Loeffler’s cash has recently gone to an expensive TV ad campaign targeting Warnock. These ads accuse Warnock — the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former pulpit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — of anti-American hatred, praising “Marxism” and calling police thugs and gangsters.
Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic rival Jon Ossoff will also go head-to-head in the Georgia runoff; Senate races are usually staggered so that a state’s two seats aren’t up for re-election at the same time, but between Perdue’s regular re-election bid and Loeffer’s appointment following Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement triggering a special election, the Peach State faces an unusual and decisive election cycle. The victors of the two Georgia runoffs will determine which party will take control of the Senate. So far, Republicans have won 50 Senate seats, and Democrats have a total of 48. If Democrats win both Georgia runoffs, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tiebreaking vote, giving the Democrats unified control of the White House and Congress, according to CNBC.
The biggest spender of personal funds this cycle has been Michael Bloomberg, whose bid for president was more than 99 percent self-funded. Bloomberg shelled out roughly $1.1 billion of his own fortune and received only about $914,000 from other donors, but lost by a landslide in the Democratic primary, winning only American Samoa.
Bloomberg’s costly failure has been chalked up to criticism he faced for policies implemented during his run as the Republican mayor of New York City, including his police department’s “Demographics Unit,” which spied on Kebab shops and Muslim student rafting trips at Yale. Bloomberg was also only a part-time member of the Democratic party with a history of endorsing Republican candidates and supporting their decisions, making left-leaning voters wary to cast a ballot in his favor.
But Bloomberg is hardly an isolated case. Tom Steyer, billionaire hedge fund investor and environmental activist, also had an unsuccessful bid for the presidency, spending $341.7 million and raising just over $3.7 million. In the first month of his candidacy, he spent more than $7 million on TV and digital ads, including more than $3.7 million in TV ad buys across the first four primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. His campaign relied on a strong finish in the latter state, which eventually swung in Biden’s favor during the Democratic primary.
Republican Texas congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall lost her second consecutive bid for a House seat after self-funding $9.2 million — 99.8 percent of her total campaign funds. Republican George S. Flinn Jr., whose run for Senate in Tennessee was 99.9 percent self-financed, also lost in the Tennessee primary after shelling out about $5 million. New York Democrat Adam Schleifer also lost a bit for a House seat after spending $5.2 million of his own cash, and Illinois independent candidate Willie Wilson’s losing campaign for Senate was 100 percent self-funded, costing the candidate just under $3.1 million.
The failure of self-financed candidates is evident on both sides of the political aisle. One reason for this may be that in general, these candidates are largely inexperienced campaigners who lack compelling resumes and credentials. For others, like Bloomberg, it may be because their reputations precede them. Still, not all candidates who self-finance are doomed to fail.
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), 86.4 percent self-funded, beat Neil Parrott with a majority vote of 58.1 percent with 99 percent reporting as of Monday morning. Democrat Sara Jacobs, heiress to the Qualcomm fortune, secured a victory against fellow Democrat Georgette Gomez in a bid for a California House seat. About 88.4 percent of her more-than $6 million came from her own wallet.