Thursday, May 31, 2012

The high cost of national elections

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 8:45 AM

The 2008 presidential election was the most expensive in US history. The candidates spent approximately $1.4 billion on their campaigns, with outside groups dumping in another $215 million, says data from the Center for Responsive Politics (

This year's contest will probably break that record. And the cash is going to flow for Congressional races, too. Outside spending will be one of the major factors.

A Politico article says that right-leaning independent groups plan to spend $1 billion on the 2012 elections. To be clear, the groups are looking at the Congressional and Senate races, too, not just the presidential contest; the article doesn't say how that many may get divvied up. Still, that's substantially higher than the $301.7 million worth of outside spending in the 2008 presidential and Congressional races.

In general, each presidential election costs more than the one before it. But outside spending grew at a higher rate during the 2004 and 2008 contests. And those elections predated the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. The ruling allowed corporations - and unions by extension - to fund ads and campaigns supporting or opposing specific candidates; direct contributions to candidates are still forbidden.

The decision's effects have already been felt in Congressional elections. Consider these figures from

  • Outside spending for the 2012 contests has already hit $134.4 million.
  • In 2010, where there were Congressional midterms and no presidential race, total outside spending topped $304.9 million.
  • To repeat, outside spending in 2008, which saw Congressional and presidential elections, was $301.7 million.
  • Total outside spending in the 2006 elections - the last time there were Congressional midterms - was $68.9 million.


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