Most Nebraska legislative races in 2022 exceed $100,000 in spending

Four races total more than $2 million together

By: - February 6, 2023 4:00 am
Floor of the Nebraska Legislature

The floor of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral Legislature. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

Spending six figures could be a new norm for running for the Nebraska Legislature.

At least one candidate in 19 of the 25 races for the Nebraska Legislature in 2022 exceeded six figures in expenditures by the general election. In nine of those races, both general election candidates spent more than $100,000.

Together, these candidates raised about $6.7 million and spent $6.5 million to run for the Legislature. In four races, combined candidate spending exceeded $550,000.

The annual salary for a state senator is $12,000.

The costliest races came between State Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington and challenger Lou Ann Goding, where the candidates spent a combined $577,434, and between State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha and challenger Christian Mirch, where the candidates spent $554,933 in all.

DeBoer shelled out 70% of the funds in her re-election campaign, outspending Goding by $233,860, while Cavanaugh outspent Mirch by just $25,058.

Both DeBoer and Cavanaugh were targeted by former Gov. Pete Ricketts and now-Gov. Jim Pillen over their votes against a proposed abortion trigger bill in 2022.

The next costliest race involved State Sen. Mike Jacobson and challenger Chris Bruns, both of North Platte. Together they spent $552,529. Jacobson spent the most of any legislative candidate statewide, more than $414,000. 

Also at the top of the pack was the race on who should succeed centrist State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, who was term-limited.

The seat ultimately went to John Fredrickson, but Stu Dornan outspent Fredrickson nearly two-to-one, spending $359,156 to Fredrickson’s $192,672.

The only other race where the top spender did not win was in District 40, an open seat after State Sen. Tim Gragert opted not to run for re-election. Keith Kube of Crofton spent $162,623 and lost to now-State Sen. Barry DeKay of Niobrara, who spent $64,269.

State Sen. Christy Armendariz and Michael Young in northwest Omaha had the narrowest gap in spending between candidates, at $6,707. 

Speaker John Arch of La Vista spent $195,973, more than 18 times the $10,380 spent by challenger Cori Villegas of Papillion.

Among incumbents, State Sens. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and Myron Dorn of Adams, who both ran unopposed, raised and spent the least. Brandt raised $74,031 and spent $30,011; Dorn raised $48,967 and spent $28,768.

Some insights in races beyond the Legislature:

  • Kathy Wilmot defeated then-State Sen. Matt Williams, even as he spent $459,527 to her $49,091 for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents (a targeted attack campaign against Williams, funded in part by Ricketts, also helped).
  • Marni Hodgens spent $158,863 but lost to incumbent Deborah Neary for the District 8 State Board of Education seat, with Neary spending $118,657.
  • Attorney General Mike Hilgers spent $772,712 while losing opponent Larry Bolinger spent just $1,132. That’s a ratio of 682 to one.

Nebraska Examiner political reporter Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. He reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan before joining the Nebraska Examiner staff as an intern.