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Without an Opponent, Jeff Sessions Still Spends

(Courtesy Sessions campaign)

How does a senator running unopposed for re-election in a red state during a good year for Republicans manage to spend nearly $1 million?  

It adds up fast.  

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has nothing to worry about next Tuesday. Still, his campaign logged $996,988 in spending from January 2013 through September 2014, including more than $7,000 on Christmas cards.  

Phyllis Spurlock, finance director of the Friends of Sessions Senate Committee, said some of the funds from Sessions’ campaign committee have gone to help the state, local and national parties, but that the Alabama Republican basically runs as if he has an opponent.  

“We would always do it that way,” Spurlock said, adding, “He never takes it for granted.”  

So what's different about this campaign and his last, when he won a fourth term with 63.4 percent of the vote over Democratic candidate Vivian Figures in 2008? Sessions has a smaller campaign staff and isn't spending this year on television ads or yard signs.  

After all, those aren't necessary: Sessions made news earlier this year when for the first time in Alabama’s history no Democrat was running for an in-cycle Senate seat. Sessions also was unopposed in the primary.  

It wasn't all for himself.  This January through September, he gave roughly half of the $1.07 million he raised this cycle to other political action committees, including $500,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee working to reclaim control of the chamber.  

The $483,388 Sessions spent on operating expenses — including payroll, supplies, travel and meals — are typical costs according to campaign finance experts.  

Sessions paid Republican fundraiser Elizabeth Conatser $112,000 in 16 payments of $7,000 each for consulting services. (Conatser, profiled in Roll Call when she opened her own firm in 2003 , has been paid by numerous other Republican candidates for consulting.)  

He also spent $7,384 at Delta Printing and Sign Co. of Montgomery, Ala., for printing, postage and Christmas cards. Each year Sessions sends out roughly 11,000 cards to donors around the nation. That's just over the $6,738 Sessions spent at Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill over the course of the year.  

Sessions' PAC is sitting on $3.02 million in cash on hand.  

Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, said some of the spending "might be aimed at keeping challengers away.”  

George Hawley, assistant professor in the political science department of the University of Alabama, noted that Republicans in Alabama are so predominant they can rake in cash from traditionally Democratic donors such as trial lawyers.  

Another unopposed Republican in Alabama, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, spent $868,729 over the same period. The bulk of that was on operating expenses.  

Aderholt gave $11,000 in contributions to other mostly local and state races, including $1,000 to his colleague on the Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who faced and defeated a tea party primary challenger.

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, also unchallenged on Nov. 4, spent a total of $273,004, including $209,004 in operating expenditures for costs of fundraising, postage and Christmas cards.

Joseph Birkenstock, a campaign attorney who until this year served as chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee said the spending seemed par for the course given that unopposed campaigns typically spend as if they have something to worry about.  

"Even for an unopposed candidate, it would be political malpractice not to campaign at all," Birkenstock said.  

Corrected, 7:30 p.m. A previous version of this story misstated the amount of money Sessions donated to the NRSC. Related stories: Senate Republicans Dial for Dollars En Masse Senate Fundraising Chart House Fundraising Chart Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.