Pennsylvania dispatch: ‘If money talks, the US Senate election in Pennsylvania screams.’
© WikiMedia (United States Senate)
Pennsylvania dispatch: ‘If money talks, the US Senate election in Pennsylvania screams.’

JURIST law student staffers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law are filing dispatches on various aspects of the November 2022 midterm elections in Pennsylvania. Here, Pitt Law 2L David DeNotaris reports on campaign financing and the race between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman for one of the two Pennsylvania seats in the closely-divided US Senate. 

Two Harvard graduates are running for US Senate in Pennsylvania in a race that feels all too familiar: a television superstar battling a long-time politician. At the same time, this is perhaps the first Senate race in history pitting two former college football players each other: one a safety, the other an offensive tackle.

Mehmet Oz’s career in the political arena seems to have begun in this very Senate race. Prior to this contest he has been a wildly successful businessman and heart surgeon, authoring numerous research papers and patents. He found success on Oprah Winfrey’s show before starting his own ‘Dr. Oz’ show. He has been criticized for promoting television quackery, and for not being from Pennsylvania, both of which have raised questions about his fitness for office.

John Fetterman’s political career began with his run for Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania in 2005. Fetterman won his first election by one vote. He previously ran for the Senate in 2016 but was defeated in the Democratic primary. After serving 14 years as Mayor of Braddock, Fetterman became Pennsylvania’s 34th Lieutenant Governor in 2019. He suffered a stroke on May 15, 2022, which has raised questions about his fitness for office.

The importance of this race cannot be emphasized enough, all the moreso because of the amount of money invested in. If money talks, the US Senate election in Pennsylvania screams.

Around the country, state-level midterm election fundraising is likely to exceed $7 billion. Pennsylvania’s Senate candidates alone have fundraised a combined $83 million. ‘Fundraised’ denotes money donated directly to candidates, as opposed to outside spending. But outside spending is where the money really is.

Outside spending, political spending made by groups or individuals not coordinated with a candidate’s committee (including so-called Super PACs or independent expenditure-only committees), nationally has exceeded $1.3 billion in this midterm cycle. 2018 was the first midterm election cycle in which outside spending exceeded $1 billion. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has the most expensive election of them all, with outside spending exceeding $153 million on this Senate race so far. Roughly $110 million of that is being spent opposing rather than supporting candidates.

The majority of outside spending is adversarial, that is, money is spent heavily on (advertisements) opposing candidates, rather than on messages supporting them. In this race, roughly $18.6 million has been spent supporting Fetterman’s campaign, a decent margin of spending over Oz’s $11 million in supportive spending. These, however, are meager amounts compared to opposition funding: $55 million has been spent opposing Fetterman, another $55 million has likewise been spent opposing Oz. Combined candidate and outside spending for the 2022 PA senate race comes in at roughly $270 million, a pretty penny indeed.

When the majority of ad money is spent opposing a candidate rather than promoting policy, it is difficult to determine what to support about a candidate, aside from their opponent’s flaws. Regardless of the outcome of the election, this is the state of our union. But everybody makes informed decisions on the basis of policy, not advertisements, right?