The price of running in a contentious S.C. state Senate race is going up and easily can run into the six figures.
Both candidates for a Northeast Richland state Senate seat, for example, have raised more than $100,000, according to state ethics filings. That sum — in excess of $250,000 in total for both candidates — does not include additional money spent on behalf of the candidates by the state Democratic and Republican parties.
An embattled incumbent, trying to retain his or her Senate seat, can spend even more.
Earlier this year, state Senate President Pro Tempore High Leatherman, R-Florence, waged the state’s most expensive Senate campaign. Leatherman reported spending almost $2 million, including a $750,000 loan that he repaid, to fight off two GOP primary challengers and the political machine of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
Where does the money go?
Advertising on television or radio, mailings, campaign signs, social media, campaign events and even the cost of fundraising — spending money to make money.
And those costs quickly add up.
“Campaigning is very expensive,” said S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, referencing the old saying, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
Candidates have more competition than ever when it comes to catching voters’ attention, said S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore, adding capturing that attention can be expensive.
Social media, campaign costs add up
Running for the state Senate is more expensive than a race for the S.C. House or a local government post because, in part, of the prestige associated with the post, both party chairmen said.
“South Carolina senators are very influential,” Moore said, adding senators hold sway over state policy on a number of issues. As a result, donors think donating to a powerful Senate is a good investment.
“A South Carolina Senate seat is a very powerful position,” Harrison said.
Positive name recognition and voter awareness are essential to campaigns, Moore said, adding it can be costly to buy voter awareness.
While not in Leatherman’s league, Republican Susan Brill, a Richland 2 school board member, and Democrat Mia McLeod, a state representative, are spending tens of thousands as they vie to succeed outgoing Democratic state Sen. Joel Lourie in District 22.
Democratic candidate McLeod had not released her per-election filing as of Monday evening. But in her July report she had raised $127,920.
As of Monday, Brill had raised $189,146, including $90,000 in loans, according to her campaign filings.
Brill’s largest expense since July was $10,000 spent to call voters. Her other campaign expenses include nearly $4,500 to print and mail campaign materials, and $350 for consulting on use of social media.
Social media is a newer landscape for campaigns, long accustomed to more traditional ad buys, including TV commercials.
However, most campaigns now realize its much more cost effective to spend money on Facebook ads, phone calls and old-fashioned mail, said the GOP’s Moore.
TV commercials do not have the impact they once had because viewers can fast forward through as now, never seeing them, Moore said.
Democrat Harrison agreed social media now is a part of everyday campaigning, requiring Facebook and Twitter ads.
State Senate leader Leatherman, who chairs the Senate’s budget committee and sits on many other state boards, spent nearly $2 million fending off two GOP primary challengers and a political committee with ties to Gov. Haley, who frequently has clashed with her fellow Republican.
Leatherman, who started the campaign with almost $700,000 in the bank, reported raising more than $600,000 in contributions and borrowing $750,000, later repaid.
Other state senators spent more than $200,000 each as they tried to fend off challengers in June’s GOP primary. Three Republican Senate incumbents lost to challengers in the June primary despite raising more than $200,000.
Senate leader Leatherman has said the cost of running for office is rising, in part, because candidates must fend off outside groups as well as challengers. Those outside groups are not directly tied to a candidate in a race. But the “dark money” groups, which do not have to reveal their donors or agenda, can flood a contest with money.
Now, candidates have to counter spending by outside groups that are unaccountable to anyone, Democrat Harrison said.
The Midlands money race
S.C. Senate and House candidates were supposed to report Monday the money they have raised for the Nov. 8 election. A candidate’s first report is due within 10 days after spending or receiving $500. Candidates had until midnight Monday to report their campaign finances. A look at how much Richland and Lexington candidates say they have raised and spent:
Republican Susan Brill reported raising $189,146, including $90,000 in loans. Brill has $115,983.92 available to spend, according to her Monday filing.
Democratic state Rep. Mia McLeod had not updated her campaign finances as of Monday evening. McLeod had raised $127,920, as of July, and spent $13,884, leaving $114,036 on hand.
Democratic state Sen. Nikki Setzler has raised $231,495, he reported Monday, Setzler had $135,718 available to spend.
Republican Brad Lindsey had not updated his campaign finances by Monday evening. He had raised $1,522 in July.
Republican Cal Forrest has raised $2,000 since winning the June GOP primary and has $3,105 in cash on hand, and $27,000 in loans left over from the primary.
Democrat Tillman Gives had not updated his campaign finances by Monday evening. He had raised $510 in September.
Republican state Rep. Kirkman Finlay III has raised $245,245, including $101,689 in loans, according to his campaign’s Monday filing. He has $82,580 in cash available to spend.
Democrat Tyler Gregg had not updated his campaign finances as of Monday evening. He had raised $25,862 by July. He spent $2,281 and had $30,474 cash available.
Republican Donald Miles reported Monday that his campaign had raised $10,917 and has $2,578 available to spend.
Democrat Ivory Thigpen had not updated his campaign spending as of Monday evening. Thigpen had raised $45,265 and had $2,249 available to spend as of mid-year.
Democrat Rosemounda (Peggy) Butler had not reported raising any money as of Monday evening.
Republican Micah Caskey had not updated his pre-election fundraising as of Monday evening. In July, Caskey had raised $32,755.
Republican state Rep. Kit Spires had not updated his campaign spending as of Monday evening. In July, he had raised $23,860 and had $21,048 available to spend.
Democrat Robert Vanlue had not reported raising any money as of Monday evening.