Big Money Pouring Into State Secretary of State Races

funds are flow­ing not just from dark money sources and big donors.

Photo: YouTube

In a 2018 Johns Hopkins Univer­sity survey, more than 80 percent of respond­ents could­n’t name their state legis­lat­ors. One-third didn’t know who their governor was. About the same propor­tion could­n’t remem­ber who they voted for in down-ballot state races.

In other words, Amer­ic­ans spent little time think­ing about state govern­ment.

The intrins­ic­ally partisan nature of the state secret­ary of state job has occa­sion­ally brought some office­hold­ers to national atten­tion. Kath­er­ine Harris co-chaired George W. Bush’s Flor­ida campaign in 2000, then played a key role in the recount (and was even portrayed by Joan Cusack on tele­vi­sion!). Brian Kemp of Geor­gia drew criti­cism when he over­saw his own elec­tion to the governor­ship, super­vising voter-roll purges that dispro­por­tion­ately affected Black voters. Savvy insiders knew these were import­ant jobs.

After the 2020 elec­tion, every­one knew. Donald Trump’s postelec­tion demand to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, ” prac­tic­ally made Geor­gia Secret­ary of State Brad Raffen­sper­ger into a house­hold name. By trans­form­ing a histor­ic­ally nonpar­tisan minis­terial duty — the certi­fic­a­tion of elec­tion results — into a partisan high-wire act, Trump instantly made state secret­ary of state a high-profile post.

A new monthly series of Bren­nan Center reports confirms that the stakes have been raised in races to over­see state elec­tions. My colleague Ian Vandewalker found that across key battle­ground states, “contri­bu­tions are three times higher than they were at this point in the 2018 cycle and eight times higher than 2014.* The numbers are partic­u­larly high in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Michigan.”

Arizona Repub­lican Mark Finchem already boasts six times as many donors as every candid­ate in the 2018 elec­tion combined. (He’s also retailed QAnon conspir­acy theor­ies, accord­ing to CNN.)

Notably, funds are flow­ing not just from dark money sources and big donors. These races now attract dona­tions from across the coun­try. Two-thirds of Finchem’s donors live outside of Arizona. The two lead­ing fundraisers in the Geor­gia secret­ary of state race have already collec­ted more out-of-state money than the combined total of all candid­ates in the 2018 elec­tion.

As an advoc­ate for a robust parti­cip­at­ory demo­cracy, I think it’s great that so many people are inter­ested in down-ballot state elec­tions. I am, however, concerned about the reason for this interest — it’s clear that the Big Lie is driv­ing these dona­tions. Finchem has built his candid­acy around a prom­ise to “decer­tify three 2020 county elec­tions, ” and in Michigan, Kristina Karamo has said voting machines in the state could have flipped 200,000 votes to Joe Biden. For their part, Demo­crats are rais­ing huge sums by arguing that their oppon­ents repres­ent a mortal threat to demo­cracy. For example, Regin­ald Bold­ing, one of Finchem’s oppon­ents, ran an ad warn­ing, “The fate of our demo­cracy is on the line right now.”

Their tradi­tion­ally low profile notwith­stand­ing, secret­ar­ies of state wield signi­fic­ant power over our elec­tions. They over­see voter regis­tra­tion, main­tain voter data­bases, and manage elec­tions them­selves. The latest Bren­nan Center report paints a worry­ing picture of an increas­ingly partisan approach to this work. Elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion decisions should be based on solid evid­ence and clear stand­ards, not spec­u­la­tion, fear-monger­ing, or outright lies.

[*An earlier version of this sentence stated that contri­bu­tions during this cycle are almost eight times higher than in 2014. New data received after public­a­tion brings the total to more than eight times higher.]

By Michael Waldman\Brennan Center

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *