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Election 2010: Most expensive elections ever?

House and Senate candidates in this election cycle raised nearly $1.2 billion, ahead of the pace for contests in 2008. Republican Meg Whitman is pumping $104 million of her own money into her campaign for California governor.

By Jim KuhnhennAssociated Press / September 7, 2010

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman speaks to workers at the Allfast Fastenting Systems plant in the City of Industry, Calif.

Nick U/AP

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WASHINGTON

Turns out politics, for all its focus on the gloomy economy, is a recession-proof industry.

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This year's volatile election is bursting with money, setting fundraising and spending records in a high-stakes struggle for control of Congress amid looser but still fuzzy campaign finance rules.

Based on the latest financial reports, House and Senate candidates in this election cycle raised nearly $1.2 billion, well ahead of the pace for contests in 2008, 2006 and 2004.

Races for governor in 37 states - more than half of those for open seats - are also setting fundraising records. Billionaire Republican Meg Whitman leads the way, pumping $104 million of her own money into her campaign for California governor.

"We may be on track for the most expensive cycle ever, even more than '08, which is really hard to believe," said Michael Toner, a campaign finance lawyer at Bryan Cave and a former Federal Election Commission chairman.

Bitter intraparty fights, up to 100 competitive House races, a large number of open seats and early partisan attacks have created a growing demand for cash. The national parties are competing for dollars with outside groups and their often-anonymous contributors. And while Democrats have an advantage at the national party level, Republican-leaning groups seem to have more than filled the void.

The money has been flowing into political battlegrounds since early this year, from a special Senate election in Massachusetts to a Democratic primary fight for a Senate seat in Arkansas, from the race for Florida governor to the gubernatorial and Senate contests in California. The spending will now shift to the general election.

Millions of dollars are pouring into campaigns that have been dominated by discussions about the government's fiscal prudence. There's no such thing as restraint when it comes to getting elected.

Among the factors affecting the role of money:

Court decisions:

The Supreme Court earlier this year freed corporations and unions to spend their money on ads targeting candidates for president and Congress. A subsequent lower court ruling said individuals are also free to spend unlimited amounts on independent election ads.

So far, however, corporations have generally avoided overt politicking.
"The whole notion of 'Vote against Snodgrass by Gillette shaving cream' รณ it's just not going to happen," said Kenneth Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist who specializes in political media.