A Democratic-aligned group is pouring nearly $60 million into statewide legislative races in five states, a significant sum in an often-overlooked political field that Democrats have fought for decades.
The group, the States Project, said it was focusing on flipping a single seat in the Arizona State Senate that could push it into Democratic control, and taking back both chambers of the Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures. The group also aims to defend Democratic majorities in Maine and Nevada.
The large infusion of cash from the States Project amounts to an acknowledgment of the critical role that state legislatures play in American politics, orchestrating policy on abortion access, what can be taught in schools and other issues that encourage voters. In every state except Minnesota, Virginia, and Alaska, a single party controls both chambers.
Next year, the Supreme Court could give legislative bodies even more power if it upholds a theory, often called the independent state legislature doctrine, that would give state legislatures nearly unlimited authority over elections. Left-leaning groups like the States Project argue that this year’s statewide races in several key battlegrounds could have a huge impact on future elections.
“Alarm bells are ringing in our state legislatures,” said Adam Pritzker, founder of the States Project and a Democratic donor. “With the rise of the Tea Party and the balance of power shifting dramatically to the right, the rest of us have been asleep at the wheel for far too long at the state level. And now, this threat is really off the charts.”
The $60 million investment represents all States Project spending for the 2022 election cycle. The group estimates that it has already provided about half of the money to candidates and legislatures.
While Democrats have historically been outperformed by Republicans at the state legislative level, in part due to rigged districts created after the 2010 Tea Party wave, they have increased their spending in recent years and are nearing parity this year.
On airwaves, Republican candidates and outside groups have spent roughly $39 million, while Democrats have spent roughly $35 million, according to AdImpact, a media tracking firm. In Pennsylvania and Arizona, Republicans have spent nearly $1 million more than Democrats on ads since July.
Nonetheless, the Republican State Leadership Committee has sounded the alarm about falling behind Democrats financially in state legislative races.
“The truth is that we have spent more than we have in every recent election cycle, and we know very well that we will do so again this year,” Republican caucus chairman Dee Duncan said in a memo to donors on Wednesday.
The State of the 2022 Midterms
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the November 8 general election.
Although the group has not released its third-quarter fundraising figures, it did announce a record amount of funding in the second quarter. more than $53 million in July. But the Republican caucus also supports candidates for secretary of state and lieutenant governor, as well as state legislative contenders.
The frustration has sometimes spilled over from outside groups like the States Project who want more of the Democratic National Committee.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the arm of the Democratic National Committee that focuses on state legislative races, announced in July that had raised $6.75 million, a record for the group, but still below what the States Project has been able to raise. A spokeswoman for the Democratic Caucus said the group planned to spend about $50 million this cycle but had not announced its third-quarter fundraiser.
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Mr. Pritzker, co-founder of the States Project, said “the national party in DC has always overlooked and underfunded legislatures,” adding, “If you need an example, the DNC has not given the DLCC a single dollar for this cycle. . And that has to change”.
“This is definitely not a mission accomplished message,” Pritzker said of his group’s new investment. “We’re pretty late to the game.”
The Democratic National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
Daniel Squadron, a former Democratic state senator from New York and another founder of the States Project, said that while some of the money would be spent on television and digital ads, the vast majority would be sent directly to Democratic legislative candidates and groups. They could then coordinate their spending based on their state’s campaign finance laws.
“The top issue in state legislative races is a local issue in each district,” said Mr. Squadron. “So we started giving directly to the candidates and caucuses who work in the districts themselves. One thing it does is it gets them off the phones, it gets them out of the dark rooms and into the districts to meet with their constituents.”
Joanna E. McClinton, Democratic leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, said the States Project has helped many of the party’s candidates in the state with messaging training and an incentive program that unlocks more funding per candidate. depending on the doors touched.
But the biggest accomplishment, McClinton said, was simply matching Republicans who have controlled the state legislature for more than a decade.
“Because they have been in power for so long, they can outmaneuver us in many ways, particularly when it comes to fundraising,” he said.
In Michigan, where Republicans control both chambers, the state Senate is seen as a failure for the first time in decades after an independent commission drew new legislative districts that cut into the Republican lead. Since July, Democrats have spent more than $17 million on statewide legislative races in the state, far more than the roughly $3 million Republicans have spent, according to AdImpact.
For the States Project, the central goal and greatest challenge is to reach voters on the issues of democracy and the theory of the independent state legislature.
“For state legislatures to be given this power in presidential elections seems fantastic because it’s absurd,” Squadron said. “The fact that it could be what the Supreme Court says tests credibility. Unfortunately it turns out to be true.”