The 2012 election will not only be the most expensive election in US history, the cost will tower over the next most expensive election by more than $700 million.
Earlier this year, the Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election would cost $5.8 billion — an estimate that already made it the most expensive in history — but with less than a week to go before the election, CRP is revising the estimate upwards. According to CRP’s new analysis of Federal Election Commission data, this election will likely cost $6 billion.
The most significant difference compared with earlier cycles is the unprecedented money being raised and spent by outside – and ostensibly independent – organizations, which we are predicting will spend more than $970 million.
“In the new campaign finance landscape post-Citizens United, we’re seeing historic spending levels spurred by outside groups dominated by a small number of individuals and organizations making exceptional contributions,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Not only is the total cost of the election record breaking, but the rate at which spending has increased — and continues to increase — in the closing weeks of the election is as well. In particular, outside groups are spending furiously. Spending by these groups, for and against the two main presidential candidates, has grown from $19 million per week in early September to $33 million per week in early October to $70 million during the week beginning October 21.
The presidential election alone accounts for $2.6 billion, which is actually a decrease from 2008 when, all told, nearly $2.8 billion was directed at the presidential race. In 2012, presidential candidates along with major party committees are expected to spend about $2 billion. Outside organizations that report spending to the Federal Election Commission are predicted to spend more than $528 million to influence the presidential race. Spending by the party convention host committees and public funding for the conventions totaled $142 million.
Spending in congressional races is projected to increase slightly in 2012. House and Senate candidates combined will spend about $1.82 billion, up from $1.81 in 2010. House campaign spending alone will total nearly $1.1 billion, a slight increase of 3 percent more over 2010. In the Senate, spending by candidates will approach $743 million, which is down about 7 percent compared to 2010.
The increase in the House is mainly among Republican candidates and is accounted for by the big increase in Republican House members due to the 2010 wave election. Incumbents outraise their challengers, in general, and freshmen often raise more than other incumbents because their first reelection campaign is seen as their most difficult. This year is proving no different.
Congressional races are being affected by the huge increase in outside spending as well. For just the week beginning October 20, outside spending in the 59 House contests rated either toss up or leaning to one party or the other by Real Clear Politics totaled $41 million
Together, all candidates for Congress have raised more than $1.7 billion, based on data available from the FEC as of October 30, 2012. Incumbents have a sizable advantage, the Center found, with the average incumbent senator raising $11 million over his or her six-year term, compared to $1.2 million for the average challenger, an advantage of nearly 10-to-1. Candidates in open seats raised more than $2.5 million on average. In the House, the average incumbent raised $1.5 million compared to just $245,000 for average challenger. Candidates vying for open seats in the House raised, on average, more than $453,000. Self-funding candidates have spent more than $200 million of their own money to run for office in 2012.
Republican candidates have raised more than their Democratic counterparts in both chambers this election cycle. Republican House candidates have also raised more on average — $712,000 to $594,000, –though Democrats did better than Republicans in the Senate, on average, raising $3.8 million to Republicans’ $2.6 million on average. Overall it appears Republicans will end up collecting $1.1 billion, or 55 percent of the money raised by congressional candidates in 2012. In 2010 overall, Republicans outraised their Democratic counterparts by 15%.
Despite heavy losses by incumbents in the 2010 “wave election,” 2012 is likely to see reelection rates climb back to their usual high levels. Since 1992, House election rates never dipped below 94 percent until they fell to 85 percent in 2010. In the Senate, where reelection rates are more variable, incumbents have nevertheless won in at least 79 percent of their races over the past two decades. Incumbents won reelection 84 percent of the time in 2010.
The potential for huge outside amounts, sometimes realized, sometimes not, has likely helped drive all committees and outside groups involved in these elections to redouble their efforts to collect more money. Outside organizations are predicted to spend $187 million in House races and $258 million in Senate races.
Of the $970 million to be spent by outside groups, super PACs (which make only “independent expenditures” and report both their donors and spending to the Federal Election Commission) have, so far, spent $540 million and politically active nonprofits and others have spent $351 million.