Author’s note: This story has been updated to add context to Matt Dolan’s campaign contributions to himself.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As five Republican U.S. Senate candidates debated Monday night in Cleveland, understanding the donations to their campaigns can clue Ohio voters into their performance.
Federal candidates are required to file quarterly campaign finance reports to the Federal Elections Commission. The most recent data goes through the end of 2021, so the first three months of 2022 will be available after March.
Mike Gibbons has raised the most money in this election cycle, according to FEC data through Dec. 31, 2021. But almost all of the more than $12 million his campaign has brought in — 93 cents of every dollar — came from Gibbons himself in personal loans to the campaign.
“Voters should know who has the most money, because it’s so expensive to have ads,” said Suzanne Marilley, an associate professor of political science at Capital University.
Gibbons has spent millions of dollars in TV ads in the Senate race, and three of the five independent polls have shown him in the lead after former state Treasurer Josh Mandel was the far-and-away frontrunner for months.
Of the four other candidates debating Monday night, state Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) has raised nearly $11 million; former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken nearly $9 million; Mandel about $2.1 million; and venture capitalist and author JD Vance about $1.6 million.
Timken and Dolan, however, also gave their campaigns loans of millions of dollars, although Dolan also donated nearly $8 million to himself. Vance loaned his campaign $100,000, and Mandel has not loaned his campaign anything.
|Candidate||Money raised this cycle from all sources||$ self-funded (personal loans)||% self-funded|
Adding Dolan’s $7,990,000 self donation to the $2.5 million he loaned his campaign, his self-funded percentage would rise to 96.73%.
While Marilley said money is a good predictor of who will perform well in an election, she noted it’s not always perfect.
Donations don’t always come from individual people. The FEC calls those “individual contributions,” and its records show they made up nearly half of the money that Timken’s campaign has brought in.
Also, the more than $3.3 million her campaign has raised via individual contributions is more than four times the $747,000 that Gibbons has raised in second place.
About 20% of Vance’s and Mandel’s funds have come from individual contributions, and that share is just six percent for Gibbons and three percent for Dolan.
|Candidate||Money raised this cycle from individual contributions||% raised from individual contributions|
The FEC considers individual donations of $200 or less to be the smallest category of contribution.
Commission records show Gibbons’ campaign had the largest portion of small donors to make up individual contributions, at more than 21%. That’s ahead of Vance at 10%.
Timken, Mandel and Dolan have seen 7% or less of their individual contributions be small.
|Candidate||% of individual contribution funds that came from donations of $200 and under|
“It definitely means that that candidate has worked to reach those voters, has connected and has won support,” Marilley said. “That can be a definite, early indicator of the level of support for the candidate, perhaps even better in some ways than polling.”
A plurality of all five candidates’ individual contributions came from Ohioans, however 65% of Vance’s came from other states, as did 60% of Mandel’s. After Ohio, Vance got the most money from people in California, and for Mandel that was Florida.
|Candidate||% of individual contribution funds that came from people in Ohio|
According to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, which analyzed FEC data, people who listed themselves “retired” made up the most donations to four candidates: Dolan, Gibbons, Timken and Vance.
Timken got the most money from retirees at more than $767,096, followed by people who work in real estate donating $173,389. Retirees have donated more than $100,000 to Gibbons ($187,539) and Dolan ($115,676) and $91,947 to Vance.
Among donors who work, people in real estate came in second for Gibbons ($70,781), while entertainment workers came in second for Dolan ($14,600), and people who work at law firms came in second for Vance ($36,838).
Marilley said retirees “have more time,” and they often have certain interests that other voters don’t.
“Retirees are recipients of Social Security and Medicare, and those are programs funded by the government,” she said.
Mandel was the only candidate whose outside support wasn’t mostly from retirees. His top four industrial donor categories represented interests instead of business. At the top were Republican/Conservative interests with $74,561 in contributions.