What to Know in Washington: Midterms Brutal For Self-Funded Bids

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In an election where Republicans flipped the House and Democrats narrowly held onto the Senate, the biggest losers in 2022 were self-funding candidates.

Of the eight congressional contenders who loaned or contributed $10 million or more to their campaigns this year, only one heavy spender will be seated in January.

Democratic Representative David Trone of Maryland was the only top spender to win his race as he scored a narrow victory. Trone, co-founder of Total Wine & More and the sole incumbent among the self-funders, invested more than $12 million of his own money into the contest. That’s nearly 15 times the amount raised by his Republican opponent Neil Parrott, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance.

But other heavy spending candidates, like celebrity physician Mehmet Oz and Missouri Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine, were defeated. Oz, who shelled out more of his own money than any other congressional candidate this year, lost to Democrat John Fetterman in one of the country’s most closely-watched contests. Oz poured $23 million of his fortune into his campaign through October, including a $2 million donation on Oct. 25, the day of his highly-publicized debate with Fetterman.

Valentine, an heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, lost her bid for a Missouri US Senate seat by double digits after contributing $10.4 million of her own money. Her opponent raised roughly half that amount, according to OpenSecrets. The remaining six big-spending candidates didn’t make it to the general election, having flamed out in primaries.

Self-funded candidates face difficult odds in part because they’re often political outsiders trying to find a shortcut to the national stage, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Money in Politics, which has since merged with OpenSecrets. The surge in self-funding comes as more people are running for Congress in recent years, according to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets. Read more.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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