ICYMI: Donors Invest Big in Governors Races as Battle for Democracy Shifts to the States
A new Washington Post opinion column highlights how donors are recognizing the increased importance of electing Democratic governors as Republicans ramp up their assaults on democracy.
“There’s been an awakening process,” DGA donor Sheila Markin Nielsen told the Washington Post. “Governors matter more than ever,” said DGA supporter Josh Wachs.
In the wake of Republicans’ growing attempts to weaken — and even overthrow — democracy, Democratic governors have signed laws to expand voting rights.
Donors are taking notice and investing in the DGA like never before. The DGA raised a record-breaking $23.25 million in Q1 across all entities.
Democratic governors have also emerged as the last line of defense against voter suppression attempts from GOP-controlled legislatures and against a Republican governor potentially sending fake electors in the next presidential election.
“For there to be any hope of blunting the GOP assault on democracy,” the column said, “key to it will be the widespread realization that contributions to state-level races can help build that firewall.”
Read key excerpts from the column below.
Washington Post Opinion: With democracy under attack, Democrats see a firewall in states
For a good long time, Democrats have lamented the challenge of getting donors to focus on state-level races. More glamorous contests — presidential races, hot Senate campaigns against nationally loathed Republicans — often suck up the attention, and the money, of donors at all levels.
But Democrats might have found a new way to raise awareness of state races, particularly gubernatorial contests, to donors. And Republican assaults on democracy are key to it.
The Democratic Governors Association, which oversees Democratic gubernatorial campaigns, is set to announce that it raised more than $23 million in the first quarter this year, a record, people with knowledge of the numbers tell us. Over 30 percent of those that gave were first-time donors.
Several people who raise money for DGA told us GOP attacks on democracy on the state level, and the idea that Democratic governors might represent a firewall against them, has made it easier to haul in funds for Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
DGA donor Sheila Markin Nielsen, a former assistant U.S. attorney who does executive coaching for lawyers, says that among fellow donors, “there’s been an awakening process.”
“Many of us thought that national elections matter most,” Nielsen told us, noting that donors are now realizing that Republicans have been working to capture control in the states “for a really long time.”
“We haven’t focused on that,” Nielsen said. “And we really need to.”
The conception of Democratic governors as a last line of defense for democracy — and the way this is helping to raise money — is playing out in several ways.
One is that Democratic governors in states with GOP-controlled legislatures can veto voter suppression legislation and, in some states, extreme gerrymanders. This has already been happening in places such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Those states all have Democratic governors and GOP legislatures. If Democrats do hold those seats in 2022, they’ll continue erecting a bulwark against those legislatures’ efforts to restrict voting rights.
“Governors matter more than ever,” Josh Wachs, a management consultant who fundraises for DGA, told us. He says it was much harder to raise money for gubernatorial races in 2018 than today, because donors are seeing “the power that Republican-controlled legislatures and governors can have” over democracy itself.
Another mounting fear is that in 2024, a Republican governor in a swing state could send a fake slate of electors for a Republican presidential candidate who lost the state’s popular vote. A GOP-controlled House of Representatives could count those sham electors, and they would stand.
As far-fetched as that sounds, you already see Trump’s candidate for governor of Georgia, former senator David Perdue, intimating that he’d be prepared to do just that. Republicans in other swing states are similarly radicalizing along anti-democratic lines. And in every single one of the most important presidential swing states, there’s a governor’s race this year.
This is galvanizing donors as well, according to Jackie Brot Weinberg, a consultant who raises money for DGA. Weinberg says donors who previously didn’t even want to talk about giving to gubernatorial races are now “hyper focused” on scenarios such as that one.
“It’s a genuine concern,” Weinberg told us, noting that this is having “a motivating influence on Democratic donors.”
The story of voting laws isn’t just about suppression. In many states run by Democrats, legislatures have passed recent laws to enhance voting rights and bolster democracy. According to the Brennan Center, in January nearly 400 bills were pending in 32 states to expand voting access.
Where those proposals pass, they will only be signed into law by Democratic governors.
This is part of a broader awakening to the importance of the states. Democrats are making efforts to direct more money to flip one or more key legislative chambers, and candidates for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections, are fundraising at a pace many times higher than in prior years.
Nevertheless, for there to be any hope of blunting the GOP assault on democracy, key to it will be the widespread realization that contributions to state-level races can help build that firewall. This appears to be underway. Time will tell whether it’s enough.