Behind the meteoric rise in campaign spending

Billions of dollars were spent in campaign financing this year, and much more is predicted for 2012. Candidates already are scrambling for dollars, with particular focus on large donors.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been seeking major donors for a possible 2012 presidential bid. The next election is likely to see an explosion of political cash, eclipsing the $5.3 billion spent in the 2008 and the $4 billion tab this year.

The crucial subtext in the 2010 midterm elections is money – hundreds of millions of dollars spent in record-breaking amounts. Actually, that should be “billions” – probably topping $4 billion this year.

And it’s not just on the well-known races for the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, several of which featured humongous personal sums from the pockets of wealthy candidates. (More records broken.)

At the state level, campaign spending topped $2 billion – or to be precise $2,075,394,657 on statewide races across the country.

RELATED: Outside groups dominate 2010 campaign spending

The figure comes from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Helena, Montana.

It’s a terrific resource which collects reports submitted to agencies by all candidates for statewide office, including legislatures, state supreme courts, major political party committees, non-bond ballot measure committees, and lobbyists. Check out your own state or legislative district at

With the reporting barely complete for 2010 (and some very close races yet to be decided) it seems certain that the 2012 presidential election year will be another record buster, topping the $5.3 billion spent in 2008. Or as the headline on an Associated Press story puts it, “Too much money in politics? Ain't seen nothing yet.”

There’s another way to look at it, and that’s how much candidates spent to win each vote.

The record here was set by tea party favorite Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada, who attracted much of her campaign money from outside the state. It cost her $97 per vote to lose to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (who spent a paltry $69 for each of his votes), according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance filings and election results.

Being a millionaire or billionaire doesn’t guarantee success. Just ask Meg Whitman ($144 million) and Carly Fiorina ($17 million) in California or Linda McMahon ($42 million) in Connecticut. All three lost.

This was the first election in which the US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling had a major impact, striking down limits on corporation and labor union spending and leading the way for newly-created outside groups to donate huge sums without detailing their donors

"[Citizens United] had a disastrous impact on the 2010 elections and this is just the beginning," campaign finance watchdog Fred Wertheimer, who heads the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Democracy 21, told The Hill magazine. "You could easily have secret money doubled in 2012."

Given the new campaign finance landscape, both major political parties are angling for advantage in 2012. This is especially true of Republican presidential hopefuls.

“In recent months, many of the candidates-in-waiting have been actively cultivating the kinds of major donors needed to finance expensive presidential bids,” reports the New York Times. “[Mitt] Romney has been by far the most assertive, according to interviews with a half-dozen top Republican fund-raisers, already pushing for commitments from major donors should he formally decide to run.”

Democrats (and the Obama White House) are just as eager to take advantage here.

The White House is bracing for an onslaught of $500 million or more in spending by outside Republican groups opposed to President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection, prompting Obama advisers to give the green light to big Democratic donors to set up similar outside groups to counter the GOP’s effort,” according to “That posture marks a significant shift by a White House that had discouraged outside players in the political arena in 2008.”

Politico also reports that major liberal donors will meet in Washington this coming week to discuss fundraising strategies following the “shellacking” Democrats suffered in the midterm elections.

RELATED: Outside groups dominate 2010 campaign spending

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