When Kelly Loeffler was appointed to the U.S. Senate in December of 2019, the wealthy financial services executive made it known she was prepared to spend at least $20 million of her own money to win election in 2020.
Ten months later, Loeffler and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, have done that and much more, plowing more than $31 million in loans and contributions into GOP races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and White House, including $23 million to Loeffler’s campaign so far, all allowed by federal law.
Loeffler’s hefty spending on her race makes her the third-largest self-funder in the country this cycle, behind only billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, who both ran failed campaigns for president.
It has also allowed her to easily outspend all 20 of her special election opponents combined, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of Federal Election Commission disclosure reports from Loeffler, Sprecher, national Republican campaign committees, and all 20 of the candidates running in the special election, as well as data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
It’s a move that her campaign says makes her a more independent senator, not less.
“Kelly has been blessed to live the American dream, and she stepped out of the private sector to work for every single Georgian in Washington to make sure they had the opportunity to live theirs,” said her spokesman, Stephen Lawson.
Just the beginning
But the Senate campaign is just the beginning for Loeffler and Sprecher, the chief executive of Intercontinental Exchange, the Georgia-based company that owns the New York Stock Exchange. They have both been major political donors, almost always to Republicans, since 2003.
Eric Tanenblatt, a Loeffler supporter who was also a national finance co-chair for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, has known Loeffler and Sprecher for years as “very generous donors to the Republican cause.”
"When people would come through Georgia for fundraisers, they were always at the top of the list,” he said.
This year is no exception for the couple. With $8.5 million donated to a vast array of GOP campaigns and committees across the country, Sprecher and Loeffler have joined the ranks among the top spending families in the country, although only they count a sitting senator among them.
In addition to firing up her own campaign in the months after Kemp appointed her over President Donald Trump’s objections, Loeffler also gave $291,300 to the Trump Victory PAC and $248,500 to the Republican National Committee.
While she learned the ropes in the Senate, she simultaneously gave the maximum $2,800 campaign contribution to no fewer than 16 of her 22 GOP Senate colleagues up for election in November, including David Perdue, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse, along with three GOP Senate campaigns and two House campaigns, including long-shot Georgia congressional candidate Angela Stanton-King.
At the same time, Sprecher separately donated an additional $7.9 million to GOP campaigns and PACs, including $5.5 million to Georgia United Victory, a PAC spending heavily against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in the Loeffler race.
Across the country, Sprecher gave $1 million to the America First PAC supporting Trump, $717,000 to the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, $258,500 to the RNC, $290,300 to Trump Victory, and the maximum $10,000 contribution to 14 state Republican parties, including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky and Maine.
“It looks like they are giving very strategically,” said Larry Nobel, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission. “It reminds me of the line, 'It’s not what’s illegal that’s scandalous, it’s what’s legal.”
To Nobel’s point, all the reported spending by Loeffler and Sprecher lands exactly at the limits set by law. None of the raising and spending in her thousands of pages of disclosures appears to be anything but legal.
“I think the criticism is unfair and usually coming from career politicians,” Tanenblatt said. “Kelly didn’t have to do this job. We should be celebrating successful people.”
Money — everywhere
The couple’s largest investment this year, of course, is her Senate race. Loeffler has made four loans to her campaign for a total of $17 million against a bank line of credit through Morgan Stanley Private Bank, the company’s banking unit for clients “of significant wealth.” She has made two more loans from her personal checking account for a total of $6 million.
Loeffler has also raised more than $5.1 million from individuals and corporate PACs. If you’ve ever wondered who would write a check to a multimillionaire, it turns out the answer is lots of other multimillionaires.
Among the donors to her campaign are Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of GOP megadonor Robert Mercer; H.R. Perot Jr., the billionaire son of Ross Perot; and Glen Rollins, the former CEO of Orkin. Other deep pockets adding to Loeffler’s coffers are Bobby Sasser, the executive chairman of Dollar Tree; Geoffrey Boisi, a Carnegie Corporation trustee; and Thomas Saunders, a Palm Beach investment banker.
Altogether, her campaign has raised $28.25 million and spent $22.3 million heading into the final week before the election.
David and Goliath
It makes for a David-and-Goliath money contest between Loeffler and her closest Republican competitor in the race, Collins. The two are deadlocked in recent polls for what looks like a single GOP ticket to a January runoff.
After Kemp passed over Collins for Loeffler for the Senate appointment, Collins announced he would run against Loeffler for the seat anyway. He started the race with $1.65 million from his House committee, raised $4.43 million from individual and PAC donors, and has spent $3.68 million.
It’s less than one-fifth of what the Loeffler campaign alone has spent, excluding the millions pouring in against Collins from outside groups, but the details shape the contrast.
If Loeffler is campaigning more than two hours away from Atlanta, she often heads out in her private jet, purchased in the weeks after Kemp appointed her to the Senate.
Collins, on the other hand, crisscrosses the state in his family’s 2012 Ford, a navy blue Explorer with 158,000 miles on it. His staff follows behind in a 15-passenger Econoline van that may or may not break down any given day.
Nights in Washington for Loeffler are spent at the luxury Trump Hotel at her own expense. Collins sleeps on a cot for free in his Capitol Hill office. A recent evening on the campaign trail for Collins found him at the Comfort Inn in Warner Robins, with staff bunking up two and three to a room to save money.
“We don’t have the luxury to pull up to a private airfield and get in the plane and make it to a campaign event in Savannah 30 minutes later,” said Chip Lake, a veteran strategist and adviser to Collins, who has bunked up with fellow staffers on the road. “That’s an advantage that she has that we don’t, so we have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
Loeffler’s cash has also made it possible for her to vastly outspend Collins and other candidates in the special election with more than $14 million in television ads, plus millions more in polling and consultants.
Among her other expenditures, according to the latest disclosures: $342,068 for private jet travel; $36,428 for a campaign meeting at the Buckhead Club; $20,859 for catering at a donor retreat at the exclusive Sea Island Beach Club where she and Sprecher have a $4 million condo; and $1,500 for cookies from the Byrd Cookie Co.
Above and beyond Loeffler’s campaign spending, the super PAC Georgia United Victory has spent $13,770,781 on broadcast and digital ads specifically targeting Collins. Sprecher has donated $5.5 million to the group, which is barred by law from coordinating with the Loeffler campaign. Ken Griffin, a billionaire hedge fund manager, has also put $3 million into the effort in the past several weeks.
More firepower is aimed at Collins from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund PAC, which has spent $774,083 against the congressman, although that’s just a fraction of the $37 million the SLF has spent against Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s other Senate race. Unlike Collins, Ossoff has the benefit of Democrats spending heavily on his behalf in return.
An issue from the start
Almost as soon as Kemp appointed Loeffler, who was known by national Republicans mostly as a large donor, the backlash against her among some in the GOP began.
Activists questioned how someone who owns a $10 million estate could connect with voters. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, a Collins ally, said last week that Loeffler had merely “married well.” And Collins called her a “pretend farmer,” though she grew up on a modest farm in Illinois.
During a heated moment in their recent debate, Loeffler hit back at Collins for his attacks on her.
“You’ve attacked my hair, my makeup, how I talk, my clothes, where I’m from. You’ve lied about me, you’ve lied about my family,” she said. “Let me tell you, here’s the truth: I’m here because I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
When asked whether Loeffler or Sprecher has contributed to “dark money” groups or nonprofits that allow donors to give unlimited amounts anonymously, her campaign spokesman declined to comment.
Lake, the strategist advising Collins, swears that he and the congressman are unconcerned by what he calls “an obscene spend.”
“I told Doug when he got into this race that he could win despite being outspent 4- or 5-to-1,” Lake said from a parking lot in Macon shortly after the campaign’s passenger van broke down.
“I did not think he could win this race by getting outspent 10-to-1, but that’s where we’re at," Lake said, "and we’re going to win.”