Campaign spending on the 2016 presidential and Congressional elections will exceed $7 billion, beating the previous record from 2014 by about $1 billion. This will continue the trend of ever increasing campaign spending.

Unfortunately, the three forums (or “debates”) for the presidential candidates included no meaningful discussion of campaign financing, despite strong and broad-based concern about this issue among the public. For example, across party lines, 78% of the public believes the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United decision should be overturned because it has allowed unlimited spending on our elections by wealthy individuals, corporations, and other entities. [1]

The big growth in campaign spending is coming from outside groups that are (supposedly) independent of candidates’ campaigns. By the end of August, super PACs had already collected more than $1 billion, which exceeds the $853 million they raised through the whole 2012 election. And additional mountains of money will be contributed before Election Day.

This record amount of campaign funding is increasingly coming from a small number of extremely wealthy individuals and is increasingly being funneled through a small number of super PACs and non-profit groups. It is driven by huge contributions from a handful of donors. Just 10 individuals or couples, who have each contributed between $38 million and $14 million, have contributed a combined total of $200 million. [2]

The top 100 donors have already contributed $558 million for the 2016 elections. The growth in the amount contributed by the top 100 donors in the 6 years since the Citizens United decision (which allowed them to make unlimited contributions) is astounding: from $70 million in 2010 to $380 million in 2012 to $558 already in 2016. [3] In other words, the average contribution of each of the 100 largest donors has grown from $700,000 in 2010 to $5.6 million so far in 2016 with many more dollars expected before Election Day.

Furthermore, a growing portion of this outside money is “dark” money, meaning that the true donors of the funds are kept secret. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been contributed to politically active non-profit organizations that keep their donors’ names secret. (More on this in my next post.)

Huge donations by wealthy donors, which are dominating our elections, are a major contributing factor to voters’ belief that our elections, political system, and policies are rigged in favor of wealthy individuals and corporations.

My next posts will examine the growth of “dark” money where donors’ identities are concealed, efforts to block increased donor disclosure, and the presence of unlimited contributions and dark money in state-level elections.

[1]       Editorial, 10/15/16, “The other campaign madness: Mega-donors,” The New York Times

[2]       Gold, M. & Narayanswamy, A., 10/5/16, “How 10 mega-donors already helped pour a record $1.1 billion into super PACs,” The Washington Post

[3]       Kim, S.R., 10/13/16, “Liberal big money is  pouring into elections,” Center for Responsive Politics (


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