GRAND RAPIDS — The tab for political campaign spending in the 2022 general election of federal and state-level political offices totaled a staggering $16.7 billion, according to Roger Rickard, president and founder of Voices in Advocacy.
“Let that sink in for just a second — $16.7 billion. I don't know about you, but where I come from, that's a lot of money. I think it’s outrageous, it’s obscene and it's gross,” Rickard said in an address to county Farm Bureau members attending the Michigan Farm Bureau’s AgriPAC breakfast at the organization’s 103rd annual meeting in Grand Rapids.
“We have gotten way out of whack in the amount of money that is spent on campaigns,” Rickard continued. “But a candidate for public office needs two things to be successful — money and votes — and you get more votes with more money.”
Campaign costs to build name recognition through advertising, media placement, direct mail, campaign operations and staffing are expensive and require adequate funding to truly drive impact, according to Rickard.
“And for every dollar an opponent raises, you need to raise $2,” he added. “If you don't, nothing's changed; it's even money. We don't need even money.”
Similar to farmers, Rickard said candidates need Political Action Committee (PACs) to operate.
“Farmers may go to the bank for capital, but PACs are the candidate’s bank,” Rickard said. “Without PAC money, campaigns starve, and candidates cannot be heard. Candidates who support MFB’s issues and positions need their voices heard, and AgriPac is the vehicle for achieving that.”
According to Rickard, the Slotkin/Barrett race in Michigan’s seventh congressional district was one of the most expensive U.S. House campaigns in the country, totaling $37.4 million — second only to $39 million spent in a Virginia congressional House race.
“So essentially, for Slotkin to win, she needed $204 per vote,” he added. “There were some races where the winner paid almost $380 per vote for every vote that they received.”
U.S. Senate races also proved costly and were heavily funded with outside money or “dark money” spending to influence election outcomes based on issue advocacy, where the source of funding is not required to be disclosed to voters.
According to Rickard, U.S. Senate races in five states alone attracted $1.6 billion in dark money spending in 2022.
So, whatever happened to calls for campaign finance reform? Don’t hold your breath, Rickard said. “The fox was protecting the henhouse.”
“If I were running for a U.S. Senate or Congressional seat and my opponent brought that amount of money against me, I would be in Congress screaming every day that we need campaign finance reform,” Rickard added. “But what happens if they all supported me? I'm going to keep my mouth shut.”
Rickard also encouraged the farmer audience to consider running for office, noting that, according to the McCain Institute, 70% of all candidates ran unopposed.
“There are lots of things you could do with that — there's approximately 532,000 elected officials in this country, and 70% of those were unopposed.”
Isabella County Farm Bureau leader and first-time candidate Jerry Neyer, who won a competitive race in the 92nd House District (Isabella County and a portion of Gratiot County), credited his extensive Farm Bureau involvement in preparing and deciding to run for office.
While he faced five opponents in his primary race, Neyer told Farm Bureau members he made the decision to run after reviewing the credentials of the other candidates.
“They didn’t have the background that I thought we needed for the district — we needed somebody with an agriculture background,” Neyer said. “This was the type of race that needed a person dedicated to knocking doors and getting out there and talking to the people and hearing what they had to say... That’s how I gained my support.”
In addition to honing his leadership skills through active Farm Bureau involvement and participating in the organization’s Political Leadership Academy, Neyer said the MFB AgriPAC Friend of Agriculture Endorsement was a game-changer.
“The AgriPAC endorsement carried a lot weight, and it was important for me to nail that down,” Neyer said. “Once we did, things really started happening. I was able to finish off my primary race and the general election in grand fashion with an effective advertising and mailing campaign.”