Super PACs for four leading political groups focused on abortion have poured $6 million in outside spending into crucial battleground Senate and House races this month.
Super PACs associated with the pro-abortion-rights groups Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood Action have spent $2.99 million on advertising and voter outreach in federal races in the first three weeks of October, according to a 19th News analysis of independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through Monday.
The super PACs affiliated with the National Right To Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which oppose abortion rights, spent $3 million from October 1 to October 24, most of which has come from late spending from Women Speak Out, the super PAC affiliated with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
- Women Vote has spent over $2.5 million in October and $22.8 million since the beginning of the 2022 campaign cycle.
- Women Speak Out has spent $2.2 million in October, out of $3.5 million spent this cycle.
- Planned Parenthood Votes has spent over $426,000 in October and over $5.7 million total this cycle.
- The National Right to Life Victory Fund has spent over $778,000 in October and over $919,000 overall.
Federal law limits how much money regular political action committees can give directly to a candidate. But, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, there are no legal limits on how much super PACs associated with those groups can spend on outside investments, like advertising and voter outreach, influencing the electorate.
Nearly all of Women Vote’s October outside spending has gone to television and digital advertising. Most of Planned Parenthood Votes’ reported expenditures in October have been spent on voter communications, canvassing and mailers.
The National Right to Life Victory Fund and Women Speak Out are devoting most of their October spending to direct mailers and voter canvassing, in addition to some advertising. Women Speak Out, for example, dropped over $430,000 on digital ads in the Senate battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in late October.
These outside investments in congressional races, formally known as independent expenditures, make up only one piece of the puzzle of those groups’ spending and involvement in the 2022 midterms. They also don’t represent the totality of all campaign spending in 2022 midterm races by abortion-focused interest groups.
But where these four leading organizations are spending millions in the fight to control Congress tell a story about the electoral environment — and where they believe their messaging on abortion can mobilize the most votes in the final stretch before November 8.
“Women Vote has run a bunch of ads, almost completely on abortion, in a number of states,” Christina Reynolds, vice president for communications at Emily’s List, told The 19th. “We’ve known it was going to be a focus, and we've tried to also help center it.”
That Emily’s List’s super PAC leads the pack in outside spending from abortion-focused groups, as it did in 2020, isn’t surprising. The 37-year-old organization was founded on the idea that money — and lots of it — can propel Democratic women who support abortion rights to elected office and get them reelected cycle after cycle. (The name is an acronym for “early money is like yeast.”)
“We're sending it out as soon as it comes in,” Reynolds said of the money the group is raising in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
When accounting for independent expenditures cumulatively larger than $5,000 per candidate, Pennsylvania, Washington, Nevada, North Carolina and Michigan have seen the most outside spending in federal races from the four super PACs.
Pennsylvania leads the tally with over $5 million spent by all four groups during the entire 2022 cycle, as they shoveled money into the state’s competitive U.S. Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. Spending in the race especially ramped up in October:
- Planned Parenthood Votes has spent $66,500 on mailers and ads in Pennsylvania’s Senate race and $56,000 in canvassing services in two House races for the 1st and 17th districts as of October 24.
- Women Speak Out has spent over $312,000 on canvassing services and digital advertising in the Pennsylvania Senate race in October and $13,370 in Pennsylvania House races.
- The National Right to Life Victory Fund has spent $200,000 on mailers supporting Oz and over $15,000 in House races.
Competitive Senate races in the Southwest and West Coast have also seen a crush of spending from both camps in the first three weeks of October:
- Women Vote, which has spent over $4.7 million in Washington’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley, dropped over $1 million on television advertising opposing Smiley from October 1 through Monday.
- Women Vote has also spent $200,000 on mailers and radio ads opposing Republican U.S. Senate nominee Adam Laxalt and House candidate Mark Robertson in Nevada through October 24.
- The National Right to Life Victory Fund and Women Speak Out have spent over $281,000 on mailers, canvassing and digital advertising in Arizona’s Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters and over $163,000 in Nevada’s Senate race.
- Planned Parenthood Votes spent $93,000 on canvassing services and digital ads supporting Kelly and opposing Masters in Arizona’s U.S. Senate race.
Abortion shot to the forefront of the U.S. Senate race in Georgia after the Daily Beast reported that an ex-girlfriend of Republican nominee Herschel Walker said Walker, who is vocally opposed to abortion, had reimbursed her after she had an abortion in 2009.
The National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America quickly stood by Walker, who has denied the allegations. And their super PACs have spent big in Georgia’s Senate race.
The National Right to Life Victory Fund reported spending $53,000 on mailers supporting Walker in early October, a decision most likely made before the publication of the bombshell story.
Women Speak Out has spent over $854,000 in the Georgia Senate race alone since the allegations against Walker became public, campaign finance filings show. Its spending includes $625,000 on digital ads opposing incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, $227,000 in canvassing and mileage expenses, and $2,265 on door hangers.
All four organizations are also spending cash in the open U.S. Senate race in North Carolina between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd.
Women Vote reported an $841,000 ad buy opposing Budd on October 18, following up on $64,000 in spending from Planned Parenthood Votes in the race in October. The National Right to Life Victory Fund and Women Speak Out spent over $346,000 in North Carolina’s Senate race in the first three weeks of October.
Emily’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood pledged in May to collectively invest at least $150 million in the 2022 midterms.
In addition to the money tallied here, those groups and their state-level affiliates are also placing independent expenditures in races for state-level offices, like governorships and state legislatures, that are key to the state of reproductive health care access in a post-Roe world.
A recent five-figure ad buy from NARAL in the Georgia governor’s race, for example, links GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to extreme abortion bans and potential restrictions on contraception and fertility treatment. Women Speak Out also put $1 million behind a television ad attacking both Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and Warnock as radical and out-of-step on abortion.
Just a few state legislative seats can make all the difference. In North Carolina, Emily’s List is dedicating resources toward preventing Republicans from gaining a supermajority in the state legislature that would enable them to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto over bills including abortion-related legislation, Reynolds said.
These groups’ PACs also give funds directly to candidates, serve as conduits between individual donors and candidates, and engage in voter outreach and mobilization efforts. This cycle, the presidents of all three abortion-rights organizations have been out on the trail campaigning alongside Democratic candidates in key races.
Republican candidates aren’t unified around a single message on abortion, and polls show that the overturning of Roe v. Wade and restrictive abortion bans are overwhelmingly unpopular among voters.
Representatives for the National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America did not respond to requests for comment. But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the latter group, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Republicans should take a clear stance supporting abortion restrictions, as Sen. Lindsey Graham did in introducing a federal 15-week abortion ban, and not cede that political ground to Democrats.
All four groups are publicly betting on the potency of abortion as a winning issue as some recent polls show other issues, chiefly inflation and the economy, overshadowing abortion access as a top issue for voters.
“It's not that we're saying you should only run a race on abortion – none of our candidates are doing that,” Reynolds said. “It's that this is the most powerful negative against Republicans, full stop. And we see it in every poll.”