Though we’re still a long way from November, it’s official: This year’s governor’s race is already the most expensive one ever run in the state of Wyoming.
With all numbers in, the 2018 gubernatorial primaries were not just the most expensive primary race in Wyoming’s history, but the most expensive race ever, even with two months left before Election Day. Nearly $8.2 million was raised between all candidates in the 2018 primaries for governor, burying the previous primary record set in the 2010 election, when nearly $2.62 million was raised and just under $2.1 million was spent.
Among the Republicans, Foster Friess, the well-connected multimillionaire from Jackson, was by and large the most lavish spender in this year’s governor’s race, shelling out $2.68 million – more than the total amount spent by all candidates in the 2010 primaries combined.
State treasurer Mark Gordon, the Republican nominee, spent slightly more than $2 million, according to campaign finance reports, just a shade under the amount spent by businessman Sam Galeotos. Third-place finisher Harriet Hageman was the only other candidate to spend more than $1 million.
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Mary Throne, a former state legislator who breezed to the Democratic nomination, spent only about $142,000 in the primaries, which her campaign sees as an advantage. After a strong fundraising period when she received more than $44,000 in less than two weeks, she now counts more than $210,000 in cash on-hand, which her campaign notes is higher than Gordon and Constitution Party candidate Rex Rammell’s combined cash on hand.
Though a substantial amount of money was raised – and spent — in state, candidates were helped by a decent amount of out-of-state support as well. While more than 2,730 campaign contributions totaling nearly $3.5 million were made this year from inside the state, more than 1,800 contributions totaling $2.86 million came from outside Wyoming. That figure will likely rise, because the sole comprehensive spending database that analyzed the race only included donations up through early August.
Historic levels of spending
The 2018 governor’s race may be the priciest in the history of the state. But to truly appreciate the scope of the spending on the state’s highest office this year, we have to return to history.
According to data from the Montana-based National Institute on Money in Politics, the 2010 candidates for Wyoming governor raised a total $4.1 million during both the primary and general elections. This year’s Republican Primary alone – with a combined $8 million spent between the six Republican candidates — doubles that.
Notably, more than half of the spending in this year’s Republican primary came from two individuals – Galeotos and Friess – who emerged from the private sector and spent lavishly in hopes of making it to Cheyenne this November. Pete Quist, research director for the National Institute on Money in Politics, says this type of candidacy has been more common in recent years, though stopped short of naming a cause for the phenomenon.
“We’re seeing more candidates this year than we’ve seen in other years,” said Quist. “And in those races, there have been some notable examples of candidates self-funding — paying for their own campaigns — and that has ballooned spending very much.”
“We didn’t know why this is happening necessarily,” he added. “Although we do know wealthy individuals have been getting more involved in recent years.”
Even with this year’s historical spending, Wyoming will still maintain its status as a pauper in a national political scene where princely sums dropped by wealthy candidates are becoming the norm for statewide races.
Examining the total dollars spent in this year’s major gubernatorial primaries nationwide, Wyoming lags behind the total money spent in open-seat governor’s races in New Mexico ($11.5 million raised, $9 million spent between seven candidates) and Illinois, which according to the most recent numbers available, involved $227.3 million likely making it the most expensive gubernatorial race in the history of the United States. The tab for the Tennessee governor’s race passed $51 million well before the primary, largely due to the contributions of self-funded Republican candidates.
However, Wyoming did punch above its weight compared to other primaries, beating out Maine ($6.8 million raised, $6.3 million spent between 26 candidates), Nevada ($5.47 million raised, $10 million spent between seven candidates) and Alaska which, relying on incomplete data, has involved less than $1 million in spending between four candidates.
Big names, big money
The largest beneficiary of this year’s gubernatorial primary may have been the out-of-state consultants called in to help push candidates across the finish line.
Of all the major candidates to run for governor this year, only one – Harriet Hageman – relied solely on Wyoming-based vendors for assistance in this year’s race. Others looked east to the nation’s capital and to other out-of-state vendors to help earn votes. And they certainly didn’t hold back.
For Mark Gordon, nearly $196,000 in out-of-state spending went to organizations associated with Minnesota-based consultant Scott Cottington, whose firm has been behind fundraising mailers for clients including Wyoming’s U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi. Cottington, who served as political director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee for two cycles as well as western regional field director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, has been noted by Roll Call as a “consultant who matters,” and is a notable difference-maker for Republican candidates.
An additional $28,400 went to the Tarrance Group, a market research firm and a popular GOP vendor, in Alexandria, Virginia, and tens of thousands of dollars went to Connect Strategic Communications in Dallas, Texas, which was most recently employed by a political action committee supporting Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik.
The largest expense went to Omaha-based Stratosphere Media in Omaha, Nebraska, for advertising. The advertising agency received more than $1 million from the campaign, though its list of politically associated clients appears to be nonexistent. The principal for the firm is a former COX Media sales manager. Another $3,000 went to a Denver-based consulting firm that specializes in fundraising.
Friess, who finished second, counted 10 major out-of-state vendors on his balance sheet. While some recipients – Facebook ($28,245), Google ($38,350) and three small digital consulting firms out of Falls Church, Virginia, Chicago, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., – had obvious aims, others do not.
Receiving nearly $1.3 million was Jamestown Associates, a Marlboro, New Jersey-based firm that counted the campaign for Donald Trump as a client while several other firms, including Columbia, South Carolina-based Innovative Communications Strategies and the Stoneridge Group, out of Georgia, each received more than $200,000. Virginia-based consultant and pollster the Trafalgar Group, which notably published the only poll showing Friess in the lead in the closing weeks of the campaign, received four payments totaling in excess of $110,000.
Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds