Consumers may be holding onto more of their money in this tough economy, but at least one group of Americans continues to spend like there’s no tomorrow: political candidates.
So far, candidates running for the Senate and House of Representatives in the midterm elections on Nov. 2 have spent nearly $1.5 billion on their races, according to the most recent data from the Federal Election Commission. That amount is already more than the $1.39 billion spent during the 2008 congressional elections, and it still does not take into account what this year’s candidates will likely spend in the home stretch.
“There has been a steady increase in campaign spending in recent years,” said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks the influence of money in elections. He explains the trend in part by noting there is simply more at stake. “Because there are so many races that are incredibly competitive and one party may be able to overtake the House, one side really smells blood and the other side doesn’t want to get knocked on its rear end, so both are throwing money down.”
This is evident in several high-profile races around the country in which candidates are spending tens of millions of dollars. In Nevada, for example, the Republican candidate for Senate, Sharron Angle, raised $14 million in the third quarter of this year alone for her race against Harry Reid, the incumbent and current Senate Majority Leader. Reid, meanwhile, raised nearly $20 million just in the first half of this year.
Other Senate candidates like Blanche Lincoln and Kirsten Gillibrand, who are facing tough re-election battles, have spent upwards of $10 million on their campaigns.
While this may sound like an obscene amount to spend on a single race, such numbers have become the rule rather than the exception.
Back in 1990, the average amount spent by candidates who were successfully elected to the Senate was $3.9 million and the amount spent by a winning candidate for the House was just $400,000, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. By 2000, those averages had actually doubled and as of 2008, the average amount spent by winning candidates was an astounding $7.26 million in the Senate and $840,000 for House candidates.
“We fully expect for both Senate and House candidates, the average winner will have spent a notable amount more in the 2010 elections than they did even two years ago,” Levinthal said. “That tracks with just an overall escalation in the amount of money it takes to run and win a race.”