Here’s issue #13 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/1/12. Having taken a look at voting, I now turn to campaign fundraising. This is a complicated story and will require multiple issues of the newsletter.

The amount of money spent on election campaigns in the United States is staggering. This is due to many factors, but, particularly for the federal offices that are the focus here, the long duration of campaigns and the heavy use of TV advertising are two key ones. Fundraising is critical because the candidate with the most money usually wins. The sources of campaign funds are important to examine because they have implications for who gets elected and what policies are enacted. The large sums of money involved lead to concern about the influence that contributors have over elected officials and the policies put in place, as well as to concern about opportunities and temptations for outright corruption.

Because campaigns are expensive and because money is a key factor in determining who wins, a central qualification for running for office is the ability to raise money. Deciding whether or not to run is much more dictated by the ability to raise money than by the ideas, positions on issues, or other attributes of a candidate. It also means that many people who would be good public officials don’t even bother to run.

The total campaign spending for federal elections in 2010 was $3.6 billion. In the presidential election year of 2008, it was $5.3 billion and this will increase for the 2012 election. The cost of campaigns has been growing consistently and significantly. The total for the 2010 Congressional elections was more than twice the amount of the 1998 elections. The 2008 presidential election year amount was 70% higher than the amount in 2000, just two presidential elections ago. [1]  In the 2008 presidential race, President Obama raised $745 million and Senator McCain had $368 million.

The national Republican and Democratic Parties raised roughly $750 million each in the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle and over $500 million each in the Congressional election cycle of 2009 – 2010.

In the 2010 Congressional races, the average winner of a Senate seat spent $9.8 million and of a House seat spent $1.4 million. In part because incumbents standing for re-election typically have a big advantage in fundraising, 85% of the incumbents for Senate and House races were re-elected. The average cost of winning a Senate or House seat has gown substantially since 1990: [2]





Senate (ave. per seat)

$9.8 million

$7.3 million

$3.9 million

% of 1990




House (ave. per seat)




% of 1990




The next issue, Money in Our Elections, Part 2, will examine where all this money comes from.

[1]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 12/31/11, “The money behind the elections,”

[2]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 12/31/11, “Election Stats,”


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