Senate spending gap examined

As the Connecticut Senate race enters the final stretch, the disparity in campaign spending between candidates is as pronounced as ever.

The most recent reports filed with the Senate reveal that Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon has now spent $42.6 million on her bid for public office. Her rival, Democrat Chris Murphy has spent approximately $8.6 million by comparison. McMahon’s spending advantage has allowed her to focus the race on personal, rather than policy issues, and has elicited repeated accusations from the Murphy campaign that McMahon is seeking to buy her way into the Senate, political experts said.

“[McMahon] focused primarily on what she deemed to be Murphy’s shortcomings,” said Ronald Schurin, associate professor of American government and politics at the University of Connecticut.

Schurin said McMahon could have chosen to use her “significant resources” to advertise an issue, citing 2006 Senate candidate Edward “Ned” Lamont’s devotion of funds to campaigning as an opponent of the Iraq War. Instead of advertising campaign platform elements such as her six-point economic plan, the Republican candidate chose to sponsor personal attack advertisements, Schurin said.

McMahon is not the only one spending on advertising, however — according to the Federal Election Commission, approximately $7.2 million has been spent by outside sources to fund advertisements for Murphy’s campaign. McMahon’s campaign manager, Corry Bliss, told the Associated Press that McMahon’s spending on advertisements is a response to attacks by Democrats.

“The facts are, Congressman Murphy and his special interest friends, they’re spending tens and tens of millions of dollars,” Bliss said. “They’re distorting Linda McMahon’s record and trying to buy this election, and we’re not going to let Congressman Murphy buy this Senate seat.”

Eleanor Neff Powell, Yale assistant professor of political science, said McMahon’s solid advertising resources may be an advantage in the race.

“Money isn’t everything, but it does help get the message out there,” said Powell.

Powell said Connecticut voters have had much more exposure to McMahon than to Murphy through advertisements. She noted that McMahon’s funds have allowed her to address Connecticut voters since her 2010 Senate campaign. However, Powell noted, Democrat Richard Blumenthal defeated McMahon in the 2010 Connecticut Senate election in the face of similar expenditure disparities. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McMahon spent over $50 million in her 2010 campaign while Blumenthal spent $8.7 million.

Schurin said Murphy’s strong debate performances as well as his own advertisements may make up for the financial discrepancy. He added that “Murphy’s campaign in general” and a public image of integrity may help him in the polls.

“Newspaper endorsements helped establish him as a serious, credible candidate, as opposed to McMahon who has come to be defined as less so,” Schurin said.

In a September 2011 press release, Murphy expressed no intimidation in the face of McMahon’s fortune, adding that he would maintain a “grass-roots” campaign throughout the race.

“I don’t have the millions of dollars that McMahon has, but what I do have is a record of fighting for the middle class, and a work ethic that money can’t buy,” Murphy said.

Both McMahon and Murphy were unavailable for comment.

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