The top 10 big-money Senate races in 2016 — so far


Early money is like yeast, or so goes the saying, implying that when you raise and spend big money early, it leads to more campaign cash. Since the fate of the Senate is at stake in November, we examined the campaign finance data around the most expensive contests using Sunlight’s Real-Time Influence Explorer tool. The spending here includes candidate committees, super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups. (And remember, dark money groups can run issue ads to influence elections, and those are not disclosed with the FEC or accounted for in this post.) We’ll get a chance to see who is raising more money after April’s upcoming filing deadline, but, until then, here are the top 10 big-money Senate races so far in 2016 cycle.

1. Ohio, $13 million spent

The Buckeye State has a faceoff between incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman and former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Portman is sitting on more than $12.7 million in campaign cash, the most of any GOP Senate candidate this cycle, while Strickland has only $2 million in cash on hand. So far, pro-Portman and anti-Strickland super PACs as well as nonprofit groups are leading the spending war with more than $2.6 million to help Portman keep his Senate seat. More $4.2 million has been spent in outside money so far in the race.

The top spending outside group in the race so far is the Freedom Partners, which has spent $1.8 million so far, all opposing Strickland. Big donors to this group include Charles Koch, who gave $3 million. Another Koch vehicle, the 501(c)(4) group Americans for Prosperity, kicked in $1.5 million last August, mostly purchasing a round of ads opposing Strickland. last The NRA’s Political Victory Fund is another group to watch, as it has already cleared $433,000 in spending, all in pro-Portman and anti-Strickland spending.

2. Maryland, $8.8 million spent

Maryland’s seat is loaded with early spending, and may be an outlier on this list. Current Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D, is retiring, leaving a contested April 26 Democratic primary between Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.

Van Hollen has $3.6 million in cash on hand, far more than Edwards’ $299,000. But Edwards is leading in support from outside groups. Women Vote!, the super PAC arm of EMILY’s List, has spent $2.4 million boosting Edwards and is the top spending outside group in the race. Van Hollen’s outside support comes from the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund, which has spent $926,000 so far to boost his Senate prospects. According to The Washington Post, outside groups (including super PACs) have become a campaign issue, coming into focus in a recent debate. Edwards stated of Women Vote!: “They don’t expect anything in return.” She then directed a question to Van Hollen, asking, “What do the realtors expect from you?”

3. Illinois, $8.5 million spent

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who recently won the Democratic primary, is challenging GOP incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk in what is pegged to be among the most contested Senate seats in the country. Both are evenly matched with campaign funds as Duckworth edges Kirk with $3.5 million cash on hand compared to Kirk’s $3.4 million.

Outside spending hasn’t topped $1 million yet, but the bulk of spending comes from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent more than $550,000 in support of Kirk. Other potential big spending groups to watch in this race are Senate Majority PAC, Women Vote! and a lot more spending from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

4. Pennsylvania, $8.1 million spent

At this point in the cycle, it’s unclear who will challenge Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The Democratic primary is on April 26, but the top two contenders are former Republican Rep. Joe Sestak (who also ran against Toomey for Senate in 2010) and Katie McGinty, a former state and federal government official and chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Outside groups have spent $1.4 million so far, but expect that number to skyrocket with a competitive election in a swing state. The big spending super PAC is a pro-Sestak group called Accountable Leadership, which has spent $516,000 so far. Also, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more than $500,000 to boost Toomey, while the union-backed SEIU Committee on Political Education has spent $354,000 to boost McGinty.

5. Wisconsin, $5.9 million spent

This race features a rematch from 2010, as former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. The senators are almost evenly matched in terms of cash on hand: Feingold has $4.8 million and Johnson has $4.3 million.

So far outside spending has been limited to $766,000, mostly coming from the Club for Growth super PAC, which has spent $692,000 opposing Feingold. The big donors to Club for Growth include Arkansas investment bankers Warren Stephens and Jackson Stephens (who also recently sold The Las Vegas Review-Journal to fellow GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson), who have donated at least $3.1 million to the group so far this cycle. Keep an eye out for Democratic flagship super PAC Senate Majority PAC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other outside groups to jump in and attempt to influence this race.

6. New Hampshire, $5.7 million spent

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire in what promises to be a high-dollar contest.

Ayotte has more cash on hand by far, banking $6.2 million compared to Hassan’s $1.5 million. The biggest outside group in this race is Senate Majority PAC. The super PAC spent $1.6 million so far in the Granite state and its big donors include a lot of union money as well liberal megadonors Fred Eychaner and Donald Sussman, each of whom gave $1 million.

Notable mentions

Click below to use Real-Time Influence Explorer to follow the money in each state’s 2016 Senate race:

7. Arizona, $5.2 million spent

8. Florida, $4.6 million spent

9. Nevada, $4.1 million spent

10. Missouri, $3.2 million spent