Wealthy individuals and corporations are buying our political system like never before. Congressional races, state ballot questions, and possible 2024 presidential candidates are all raising record amounts of money. This is anti-democratic in more ways than one. It undermines the core principle of one person, one vote, by giving some people a much louder voice than others – effectively giving them more than one vote. It means that politicians have strong incentives to vote and act in support of their wealthy donors rather than in support of the average Americans who are, nominally, their constituents.
(Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.)
What follows are some examples of the money in our political system and its effects, which are endemic throughout our elections and policy making. There simply isn’t time or space to begin to cover all of it.
As-of early August, candidates running for the 35 U.S. Senate seats that are up for election have collectively raised almost $1 billion. Twenty-seven of those races have raised over $10 million; the other eight have no serious competition. The races in Pennsylvania and Georgia have each already raised close to $90 million, with three months to go. The Florida, Arizona, and Ohio races are approaching $80 million. Wealth is very directly trying to buy Senate seats in the races where the candidates have spent $138 million of their own money. 
In the races for the U.S. House, the most expensive race so far is in Louisiana where $37 million has been raised, followed by a seat in New York at $36 million. California has six races that are in the top ten with amounts raised so far at between $33 million and $20 million.  In a race for the U.S. House in the small state of New Hampshire (population 1.4 million), three candidates had raised $6.5 million as-of the September primary.
Although the next presidential election is two years away and no one has officially declared their candidacy, since January 2021, 20 politicians who’ve expressed some interest in running have already raised almost $600 million. Leading the pack is Governor DeSantis, Republican of Florida, who has raised a record-setting $174 million. Next is Governor Pritzker, Democrat of Illinois, who has raised $133 million with $132 million coming from his own pocket (he’s a billionaire). Trump is next with $131 million and after that there’s a huge drop off to Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) with $35 million. 
Note that until a candidate officially declares they are running for president and sets up an official campaign committee, there are no limits on how much they can receive and they do not have to report their spending. Federal law requires candidates to register a campaign committee and file financial reports when raising or spending more than $5,000 for a presidential campaign. Clearly, the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law, is being flouted here, as it has been for years by candidates of all stripes.
In addition to the very troubling amounts of money that are being raised and spent, there are other concerning trends as well. Increasing amounts of money are being spent by supposedly independent outside groups and also by dark money groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. Although the public, i.e., voters, may not know where the money is coming from, you can be sure the candidates know – and therefore know to whom they are beholden. In addition, in many of the high-profile congressional races, an increasing amount of the money is coming from out-of-state.
Ballot questions are also seeing large and record-setting spending. In California, committees supporting and opposing two ballot questions on sports betting have raised $244 million. This has eclipsed the record from 2020 when the ballot question deeming gig-economy drivers to be independent contractors saw its sponsors, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other ride-share and delivery companies, spend $205 million to get it approved.  In Massachusetts (less than 1/5 the population of CA), committees supporting and opposing a ballot question that would add a 4% tax on income over $1 million have raised $30 million.
All of this is bad for democracy. My next post will highlight additional characteristics and effects of all this political spending. It will also identify steps that can be taken to tackle these problems.
 Datta, S., 8/4/22, “Senate races attract nearly $1 billion ahead of 2022 midterms,” Open Secrets (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/08/senate-races-attract-nearly-1-billion-ahead-of-2022-midterms/)
 Open Secrets, retrieved 10/7/22, “Most expensive races,” (https://www.opensecrets.org/elections-overview/most-expensive-races)
 Siemons, J., 9/15/22, “Possible presidential contenders raise over $591 million while waiting to declare candidacy,” Open Secrets (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/09/possible-presidential-contenders-raise-over-591-million-while-waiting-to-declare-candidacy/)
 Giorno, T., 9/12/22, “Sports betting ballot measures set new $243.8 million record in California,” Open Secrets (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/09/sports-betting-ballot-measures-set-new-243-8-million-record-in-california/)