Arizonans just witnessed the most expensive race for the Governor’s Office in state history.
What began in early 2021 with a field of eight prominent candidates saw then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs step across the finish line in November, becoming Arizona’s 24th governor and the first Democrat to take the helm in 14 years. More than $60 million was raised, and spent, by the candidates themselves — a figure that doesn’t count tens of millions spent by political parties or outside groups.
Those candidates are required by Arizona law to publicly disclose, at regular intervals, their fundraising and spending. The final ones of those reports, covering the two weeks before the Nov. 8 general election through the end of 2022, were made public Wednesday.
The record-breaking money race, when counting candidate spending alone, is the result of increased contribution limits and a shift away from the use of public funds that have together led to larger fundraising hauls, as well as more national attention on Arizona as a shifting political battleground.
“It has brought more money in the door,” said Paul Bentz, a pollster and strategist at the Phoenix firm HighGround. “Arizona is front and center as a swing state, especially post 2020,” and that translates into more organizations and individuals paying to influence Arizona’s political dynamics, he added.
Trump’s influence persists in fundraising
While Donald Trump wasn’t on the ballot, in many ways the election of Arizona’s governor was about the former president. The GOP nominee for Arizona governor, former television news anchor Kari Lake, aligned with him, and Hobbs defended the state amid his efforts to stay in power after his loss to Joe Biden in 2020.
Trump also twice visited the state to back his slate of candidates, including fan favorite Lake, who could be a vice presidential pick for Trump’s 2024 bid for the White House.
Make America Great Again Inc., formed by Trump allies last year, spent just over $900,000 in Arizona to try to get Lake elected, state records show.
But that wasn’t the only financial tie: Lake spent over $118,000 of the money she raised from donors on events at Mar-a-lago, Trump’s Florida home and a mothership of right-wing Republican politics. Of that, records show $13,800 was paid in December, after Lake’s election defeat, and as Lake continued to make appearances at the Florida estate.
What the candidates raised and spent
With fundraising in the rearview mirror, and documented in state reports, it’s clear the candidates themselves raised and spent more than any people seeking the state’s top office before.
Here’s how they stack up: Lake outraised and outspent Hobbs for the cycle. Lake tallied $15.9 million fundraising into her candidate accounts compared with Hobbs’ $15.4 million. Lake spent $15.4 million compared with Hobbs’ $15 million.
But it was actually a primary candidate who lost to Lake who holds this election’s spending record. Republican Karrin Taylor Robson, a developer who won the support of the more traditionally conservative flank of the GOP, spent $23.4 million seeking her party’s nomination in August. Of that, over $19 million was self-financing, according to the finance reports.
How it compares to Arizona history
Arizona’s last gubernatorial cycle, when Republican Gov. Doug Ducey won a second term in 2018, saw candidates raise over $10.5 million, collectively.
Four years earlier, total spending by candidates that year was just over $19 million. That race had some key parallels to 2022: The Governor’s Office was an open seat, and the primary on the GOP side was a hotly contested battle among several candidates willing to spend for the nomination.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at email@example.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.