As companies pour money into the Republican push to gain control of Congress in November, an intense effort to help the party win governorships and state offices has largely slipped under the radar, even though the stakes may be just as high.
One example: WellPoint and a subsidiary gave $842,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee—and nothing to Democrats—for the 2010 elections, IRS filings show. That is almost as much as the more than $890,000 the Indianapolis-based insurer gave to this year's congressional candidates. About 70 percent of that money went to Republicans.
Overall, companies have helped Republican committees raise more money for state races in 2010 than they did for Democratic committees. For companies, the state races are an opportunity to elect more Republicans so they have a majority and can control next year's redrawing of congressional districts. WellPoint and other companies also hope to influence state efforts to chip away at President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul. WellPoint spokesmen didn't respond to requests for comment. "The election this time has a more important impact" than in past years, says Paul Smith, a redistricting expert with the Jenner & Block law firm. "And it will be multiplied over future elections" as redistricting can help a party cement gains for many years.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, the party's main fund-raising arm for state posts, has taken in $12.8 million as of June 30, compared with $9.6 million for its Democratic counterpart, according to the IRS. Seventeen of the 20 biggest donors to the Republican committee, whose chairman is Ed Gillespie, a former aide to President George W. Bush, are companies, including AT&T, Wal-Mart Stores, and Altria Group.
The Republican Governors Assn. has also outraised its Democratic counterpart, $58 million to $40 million. One of the most prominent donors: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which has given $1 million to help seat Republican governors. "Democrats are playing defense just about everywhere," says Tim Storey, an elections analyst for the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
Of the 27 legislative chambers Storey says are most likely to change hands, 20 are Democratic-controlled and two, the Alaska Senate and Montana House, are evenly divided. Democrats control 60 chambers to 36 for the Republicans. Democrats also control 26 of 50 governorships, and 37 are on the ballot this year.
The bottom line: Companies are spending big on state races in hopes of electing more Republican governors and state legislators.