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Financing of Races for Offices that Oversee Elections: January 2022

Contests for governors, secretaries of state, and local election officials are underway. In battleground states, campaigns for positions from village clerk to statewide office are focused on the issue of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.”

Published: January 12, 2022

There are over 8,000 local and state election officials in the United States, and the vast majority are elected. This year, thousands of Americans will seek election to positions that will have direct control over how future elections, including the next presidential election, are administered and certified. From town clerk to secretary of state and governor, holders of these offices will wield immense power over both the perception and reality of whether our elections are free and fair.

In past years, many Americans would have taken it as a given that elections would be administered in a nonpartisan manner, regardless of the identity of the administrator. The question of who ran and certified our elections has traditionally been of little interest to most.

That changed in 2020, when election officials became the focus of a disinformation campaign that was meant to undermine faith in American democracy and cast doubt on election results.

Today, political leaders in both parties have argued that the future of our democracy depends on having the “right” people in these offices, with many supporters of Donald Trump contending that the 2020 election should not have been certified, and others (including the Brennan Center) arguing that if officials had not been willing to stand up to political pressure, the election would have been sabotaged. Given this new political prominence, it is reasonable to expect far more money to pour into these contests than ever before.

For decades, the Brennan Center has documented how and where money is spent in political contests, whom it has been used to support, and with what messages. Our focus has been wide-ranging, from the races for the presidency and Senate to state and local judicial elections. For the first time, this year we will train our sights on the finances and political messages in what we have determined to be among the most important contests to the future of election administration.

Throughout 2022, we will be taking a regular look at relevant contests in battleground states that had the closest results in the 2020 presidential election. This will include races for governor, secretary of state, and local election administrator positions. As candidates file disclosure forms and information becomes available, we will examine questions like how much money is raised, who the biggest donors are, how much candidates rely on small donors, and how much outside spenders like super PACs and dark money groups spend.

Finally, we will also examine the messages that this money is paying for. In particular, we are looking to see to what extent candidates are running for and against “election denialism.” Former President Trump is using his considerable influence within the Republican Party to ensure that much of the political discussion this year is about 2020 and 2024: specifically, the Big Lie that the election was “stolen” from him in 2020, and that if he runs again and loses in 2024, those election results should be overturned. Nowhere will this issue be more important than in the contests for the offices that will have a direct role in the administration and certification of election results.

Initial Findings

Although there is little fundraising data available so far for 2022 contests, a preliminary analysis indicates some significant developments in races deciding who will administer elections in battleground states. It suggests we will see record amounts of money in election administrator contests in 2022. Candidates in the great majority of the states in question will submit new filings at the end of January, so more information will be available soon.

So far, we have found that across three states with data available, fundraising in secretary of state races is two and a half times higher than it was by the same point in either of the last two election cycles. And campaigns are making election denial a key campaign issue in all six of the battleground states with elections for secretary of state in 2022 — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

In the contest for Georgia secretary of state, four candidates have each raised more than the 2018 winner, Brad Raffensperger had at this point: Raffensperger’s own reelection campaign, Democratic challenger Bee Nguyen, and David Belle Isle. Jody Hice — who said if 2020 was a “fair election, it would be a different outcome” — has outraised them all, with more than half a million dollars donated in the first three months after he declared his bid.

The Georgia election also features an early indication that these contests are being nationalized. The portion of funding in the race from out-of-state donors so far, 22 percent, is a marked increase over 2018, when it was 13 percent, and more than four times the amount from 2014, which was only 5 percent. We will continue to monitor for nationalization in all battleground states.

In Michigan, incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has raised $1.2 million — six times what the last incumbent had raised at this point in 2014. Challenger Kristina Karamo, who has said voting machines in the state could have flipped 200,000 votes to Joe Biden, has raised over $164,000 from more than 2,600 contributions.

Fundraising Analysis

Secretary of State Contests

In most states, the secretary of state is the state’s chief election official, responsible for overseeing the procedures for voting and counting the votes, as well as certifying election results. Typically, the secretary of state also maintains voter rolls, administers processes for registering voters and removing ineligible voters from the rolls, and has authority to investigate election law violations.

Formerly sleepy races for little-known bureaucrats, secretary of state elections have rapidly gained prominence. The campaign cash flowing into these races is a useful metric of this increased attention. While it is still very early in the 2022 election cycle, we are already seeing larger infusions of funds.

In the battleground states where we have found available data for the 2022 cycle — Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota — fundraising in secretary of state races is two and a half times higher than it was by this point in either of the last two election cycles.

In Georgia, four leading candidates are outpacing the winner of the last election so far. In 2018, Brad Raffensperger had raised less than $100,000 by this point, most of which came from the candidate himself (although he was not the biggest fundraiser in the race at that time). This cycle, through mid-2021, he has raised four times that, as has Democratic challenger Bee Nguyen. Rep. Jody Hice is the leader with $575,770. David Belle Isle lags the others, as well as the pace of his own 2018 campaign.

Georgia is also showing signs of increasing national attention to state election administration. Campaign finance data in the state shows the state of residence for donors who give more than $100 to a campaign over the cycle. The portion of these itemized contributions from out-of-state donors so far, 22 percent, has increased by more than half the portion in the full 2018 cycle, when it was 13 percent, and it is more than four times the share from 2014 — just 5 percent.

In Michigan, incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson has amassed $1.2 million, which is five times what she had raised at this point in 2018 and six times what the last incumbent raised in 2014. Of the declared candidates in the Republican primary, only Kristina Karamo has raised a substantial amount. Karamo has attracted over 2,600 donors and collected more than $164,000 so far.

The same pattern obtains in Minnesota, although the amounts raised there are much smaller. Fundraising in secretary of state contests as of midway through the four-year election cycle has more than tripled recently, from $42,000 in the 2014 cycle, to $111,000 in the 2018 cycle, to $157,000 in the current cycle.

Another indication of the increased prominence of these races is a dramatic increase in the resources of one national group active in them, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. Only once in its history has it raised a six-figure sum in the first half of an odd-numbered year: $202,000 in 2019. But in the first half of 2021, the group took in more than $1 million. Republicans do not have a direct counterpart, but the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spends in secretary of state races along with legislative races, is also seeing an increase in funds.

As more data becomes available, we will continue to track fundraising in all the likely battleground states that feature secretary of state contests in 2022: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Nevada. We plan to track the race in Wisconsin as well, even though the secretary of state does not run elections there.  In the state, there is a push, including by several declared candidates for secretary of state or governor, to dissolve the body that administers elections and transfer its powers to the secretary of state.

Gubernatorial and Local Contests

Secretary of state elections are not the only contests that will affect the future of election administration, of course: races for governor and local election officials are also crucial.

Governors can impact election administration in multiple ways, including through influence over agencies’ budgets. In half the battleground states — Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin — the governor appoints the secretary of state, board of canvassers, or other officials with power over elections. In Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, the governor certifies election results. In Georgia and Nevada, governors have emergency declaration powers that can affect election administration. And of course, all governors may use the bully pulpit of that office to build up or tear down public confidence in elections.

We will track contests for governor in 10 battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. (North Carolina, which was also among the closest states in the 2020 presidential election, does not have any races that directly implicate who will run the state’s elections this year.)

At the other end of the spectrum, local officials are on the frontlines of election administration. In most states, elections are administered at the county level, although sometimes it is at the city or township level. These officials run polling places, administer early or mail voting, and maintain voter registration lists. After the vote, they process and count ballots, for example checking for signatures on mail ballot envelopes or ensuring that ballot counting machines are working properly. They also often certify local results.

For the most part, local election official races have largely not begun. As candidates begin to declare and raise money, we will look for trends in contributions, spending, and messaging. We plan to examine local election official races in nine battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas, and Wisconsin. In total, there are several hundred contests for local election administrators in these states.

Election Denialism in 2022 Campaigns

Increasingly, election denial is a highly visible issue in races for election administration positions. Indeed, as far as we are aware, this is the first time in the modern era that questions about the legitimacy of elections have played such a prominent role in contests for election officials. As detailed below, candidates across the nation are using their campaigns to claim widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and they implicitly or explicitly argue that control of election administration in 2022 will determine the future and survival of American democracy. In all six of the battleground states with secretary of state elections in 2022, there is at least one candidate who has questioned the legitimacy of the last presidential election.

Just as the Brennan Center has, for decades, tracked financing and messages in elections with the potential to impact democratic processes, we are now examining election official races. Formerly contested on dry issues of bureaucratic processes, these elections are being infused with substantive politics, with more and more candidates making election denial, or opposition to it, central to their campaigns.

By “election denial,” we mean claims that the last election was illegitimate or reached the wrong result. Election deniers may make any of a host of debunked claims to cast doubt on the election. They typically assert that voting machines have been tampered with; that election workers mark, discard, or miscount ballots; or that illegitimate ballots from dead people, noncitizens, or foreign countries were counted.

Sometimes the rules of voting are said to make elections illegitimate, such as who may vote by mail, when ballots must be received or postmarked, how drop boxes are supervised, or how elections were adjusted to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Frequently, election deniers offer no evidence at all but merely invoke buzzwords like fraud, rigged, election integrity, “stop the steal,” and the like.

Election denialism involves demands for remedies such as conducting a “full forensic audit” of the election, declining to certify results, decertifying results after the fact, holding a new election, or insisting that the loser of the election holds the office.

Here we collect statements, ads, and the like that indicate each of these candidates is making election denial an issue in their campaign.

Secretary of State Contests

Georgia

David Belle Isle

The former Mayor of Alpharetta, Georgia,  David Belle Isle has said that Georgia “certified the wrong result.” He has released ads featuring parody versions of popular country songs with the lyrics changed to claim there was misconduct in the 2020 election. The lyrics of one, in part:

Well way down yonder deep in Fulton County
Ballot counting’s fishier than the Chattahoochee
You can hardly find a camera on a Georgia drop box
Might’ve been some cheatin’ but they never got caught
State Farm Arena on a Tuesday night
A pyramid of ballots in the pale moonlight

Well Fulton’s missin’ ballots and it’s causing trouble
Happy faces count Biden’s ballot double

Screenshot of David Belle Isle Facebook ad
Screenshot of David Belle Isle Facebook ad

Rep. Jody Hice

Rep. Jody Hice has claimed that “700,000 people are illegal voters” in Georgia and said, “I believe if there was a fair election, it would be a different outcome.” As a member of Congress, Hice voted against certifying Biden’s victory.

Screenshot of Jody Hice Facebook ad
Screenshot of Jody Hice Facebook ad

Bee Nguyen

State Rep. Bee Nguyen has made her opposition to election denial central to her campaign, describing her fear of “a secretary of state who is anti-democratic and refuses to certify the results of the election.” In December 2020, she debunked claims of ineligible voters from outside the state in a video that went viral.

Brad Raffensperger, incumbent

Raffensperger wrote a book, published in late 2021, called Integrity Counts, in which he defends the way he ran the 2020 election and decries the trend of candidates refusing to accept election results and raising money on “unfounded claims of fraud and corruption.”

In a November 2021 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Raffensperger wrote, “I’m mostly known for standing up for the integrity of Georgia’s November 2020 elections. I spent months debunking conspiracy theories, refuting lies about our voting procedures, and enduring threats because I refused to bend on the facts. . . . If American democracy is to survive, political figures of both parties need to abandon stolen-election claims once and for all.”


Michigan

Jocelyn Benson, incumbent

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has defended her office’s handling of the 2020 election and frequently discusses election denial in Michigan and nationwide. In a May 2021 interview, she discussed her concern about efforts to “propagate the ‘big lie,’ propagate this idea, this falsehood that the election was anything but safe and secure. . . But it’s also all going to culminate, I believe, in an effort to try again in 2024 what those democracy deniers attempted to do in 2020 but failed.”

Screenshot of Jocelyn Benson tweet
Screenshot of Jocelyn Benson tweet

Kristina Karamo

College professor Kristina Karamo was a poll observer in 2020 and claimed to observe election worker misbehavior. She has stated that Dominion Voting Systems machines flipped ballots from Trump to Biden and called for Michigan to conduct a “forensic audit” like the partisan review performed by Cyber Ninjas in Arizona. She attempted to intervene in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request that the Supreme Court block Michigan and other states’ Electoral College votes from being counted.

Screenshot of Kristine Karamo tweet
Screenshot of Kristine Karamo tweet

Arizona

Mark Finchem

State Rep. Mark Finchem has touted a claim that there were “34,000 or 35,000 fictitious voters … inserted” into vote totals in Pima County. Finchem organized an unofficial election integrity “hearing” in November 2020, which he has called on supporters to help pay for on Telegram, Gab, and crowdfunding sites. One of his campaign’s ads features Finchem speaking with election denier Shiva Ayyadurai.

Screenshot of Mark Finchem Facebook ad

Nevada

Jim Marchant

A candidate in Nevada’s secretary of state race, former state representative Jim Marchant, participated in the election denial symposium organized by Mike Lindell. He has said he would not have certified the result of the presidential election. In an interview with Steve Bannon, Marchant said there is a “coalition” of secretary of state candidates across the nation “doing something behind the scenes to try to fix 2020 like President Trump said.”

Screenshot of Jim Marchant tweet

Wisconsin

Jay Schroeder

Jay Schroeder, a former town supervisor of Menasha, Wisconsin, called for “the electors of Wisconsin for the 2020 Presidential election to be rescinded” in a press release that described certain voter registration statistics as a “RED FLAG for phantom voters,” a term election deniers use for allegations that identities of dead people are used to cast votes.


Minnesota

Kim Crocket

Kim Crocket, a lawyer working with the election integrity group Minnesota Voters Alliance, has questioned the results of the 2020 election and argued that voting procedures enable fraud.


 

Gubernatorial Contests

Arizona

Steve Gaynor

Business owner Steve Gaynor appeared at a Trump rally in the summer of 2021 where election denial was raised by several speakers. Gaynor said, “This has to be fixed. This can’t happen again — there are a million Republicans in our state who believe the election was rigged.” His campaign ran a Facebook ad in support of Arizona legislators’ partisan audit.

Steve Gaynor Facebook ad

Kari Lake

Former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who has emerged as a frontrunner in the Republican primary, has said she would not have certified the 2020 election. In an interview featured on her campaign website, Lake said the sham ballot review in Arizona revealed evidence of fraudulent votes, concluding, “Joe Biden did not win.”


Georgia

Brian Kemp, incumbent

Gov. Brian Kemp has defended himself and the 2020 results against election denial attacks and said, “I believe Joe Biden is the president of the United States. The election got certified. There’s nothing anybody can do about that.” He has touted his role enacting a voting bill called the Election Integrity Act.

David Perdue

Former U.S. senator David Perdue is running for governor and says he would not have certified the 2020 election. After his campaign announcement, he joined a lawsuit seeking to show that there “were serious violations of Georgia law in the Fulton absentee ballot tabulation.”

David Perdue Facebook ad

Vernon Jones

Campaign ads from former state representative Vernon Jones promise he will “authorize a full statewide forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election.” Jones has said on Twitter, “If it weren’t for Brian Kemp, Donald Trump would still be President of these United States.”

Vernon Jones tweet
Vernon Jones tweet

Kandiss Taylor

Educator Kandiss Taylor said, “Arizona helped Georgia commit the voter fraud,” and she demanded that the governor conduct a “full forensic audit” in Fulton and Chatham Counties.

Kandiss Taylor tweet

Nevada

Joey Gilbert

Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert, an attorney, believes Trump won and is “still our president.” He has tweeted calls to “decertify” the 2020 election.

Joey Gilbert tweet

Dean Heller 

Former U.S. senator Dean Heller has said that he is “not 100 percent confident” in the results of the 2020 elections in Nevada and “the last time Nevada had a safe, secure election in this state was when I was secretary of state,” which was in 2006. In a September 2021, interview, Heller repeatedly refused to answer the question of who the president is.


Michigan

In Michigan, journalists found that 5 of the 12 gubernatorial candidates they interviewed “said they did believe fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election.”

Ryan Kelley

The campaign website of Ryan Kelley, a business owner running for governor, features a statement that characterizes the 2020 election in Michigan as “the most fraudulent election in American history” and calls on the legislature “to DECERTIFY the 2020 election results in the state of Michigan until a full forensic audit.”

Ryan Kelley Facebook ad

Pennsylvania

Lou Barletta

Lou Barletta, a four-term member of Congress, has said that mail ballots allowed fraud in the 2020 election. He has called for an audit, implying that the state’s administration of election has something to hide.

Lou Barletta Facebook ad

Wisconsin

Tony Evers, incumbent

Gov. Tony Evers has defended the 2020 election as “safe & secure” and criticized “the Big Lie.” He has attacked an investigation into the 2020 election ordered by state legislators, calling it a “boondoggle.”

Tony Evers Facebook ad
Tony Evers tweet

Appendix: Races to Watch

The offices listed below will be on the ballot in 2022, and the winners will administer elections in states or local jurisdictions likely to be important in 2024. We plan to examine all these races, pending data availability.

  • Alabama

    Alabama

  • Alaska

    Alaska

  • Arizona

    Arizona

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    Maricopa County Board of Supervisors

  • Arkansas

    Arkansas

  • California

    California

  • Colorado

    Colorado

  • Connecticut

    Connecticut

  • Delaware

    Delaware

  • District of Columbia

    District of Columbia

  • Florida

    Florida

    Governor

    Walton County Supervisor of Elections

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    Chatham County Elections Board

  • Hawaii

    Hawaii

  • Idaho

    Idaho

  • Illinois

    Illinois

  • Indiana

    Indiana

  • Iowa

    Iowa

  • Kansas

    Kansas

  • Kentucky

    Kentucky

  • Louisiana

    Louisiana

  • Maine

    Maine

  • Maryland

    Maryland

  • Massachusetts

    Massachusetts

  • Michigan

    Michigan

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    City of Evart Clerk

    City of Brown City Clerk

    Indianfields Township Clerk

  • Minnesota

    Minnesota

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    Dahlgren Township Clerk

    Watertown Township Clerk

    Athens Township Clerk

    Dalbo Township Clerk

    Stanchfield Township Clerk

    Bellevue Township Clerk

    Elmdale Township Clerk

    Green Prairie Township Clerk

     Little Falls Township Clerk

    Pike Creek Township Clerk

    Swan River Township Clerk

    Red Rock Township Clerk

    New Haven Township Clerk

    Oronoco Township Clerk

    Aurdal Township Clerk

    Compton Township Clerk

    Dane Prairie Township Clerk

    Edna Township Clerk

    Elizabeth Township Clerk

    Fergus Falls Township Clerk

    Friberg Township Clerk

    Hobart Township Clerk

    Lida Township Clerk

    Albion Township Clerk

    Buffalo Township Clerk/Treasurer

    Chatham Township Clerk

    Middleville Township Clerk

    Stockholm Township Clerk

    Victor Township Clerk

    Woodland Township Clerk

  • Mississippi

    Mississippi

  • Missouri

    Missouri

  • Montana

    Montana

  • Nebraska

    Nebraska

  • Nevada

    Nevada

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    Churchill County Clerk/Treasurer

    Douglas County Clerk/Treasurer

    Elko County Clerk

    Humboldt County Clerk

    Lander County Clerk

    Lincoln County Clerk

    Lyon County Clerk/Treasurer

    Nye County Clerk

    Pershing County Clerk/Treasurer

    White Pine County Clerk

  • New Hampshire

    New Hampshire

    Governor

    Barnstead Town Select Board

    Belmont Town Select Board

    Gilmanton Township

    Tilton Town Clerk/Tax Collector

    Amherst Town Select Board

    Goffstown Select Board

    Pelham Town Select Board

    Raymond Town Select Board

    Salem Town Select Board

    Derry Town Clerk

    Windham Town Select Board

  • New Jersey

    New Jersey

  • New Mexico

    New Mexico

  • New York

    New York

  • North Carolina

    North Carolina

  • North Dakota

    North Dakota

  • Ohio

    Ohio

  • Oklahoma

    Oklahoma

  • Oregon

    Oregon

  • Pennsylvania

    Pennsylvania

    Governor

  • Rhode Island

    Rhode Island

  • South Carolina

    South Carolina

  • South Dakota

    South Dakota

  • Tennessee

    Tennessee

  • Texas

    Texas

    Governor

    Collin County Clerk

    Gaines County Clerk

    Johnson County Clerk

    Montgomery County Clerk

    Ochiltree County Clerk

    Parker County Clerk

    Randall County Clerk

    Tarrant County Clerk

    Williamson County Clerk

    Wise County Clerk

  • Utah

    Utah

  • Vermont

    Vermont

  • Virginia

    Virginia

  • Washington

    Washington

  • West Virginia

    West Virginia

  • Wisconsin

    Wisconsin

    Governor

    Secretary of State

    City of Merrill Clerk

  • Wyoming

    Wyoming