The $6 Billion Election

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thanks to the researchers at the Center for Responsive Politics, we now know how much candidates for federal office spent to try to get elected in 2012: at least $6.3 billion. That doesn’t include the money spent to run the election—printing ballots, buying voting machines, operating voting stations and counting ballots, etc.—it just includes campaign spending.


Barack Obama’s campaign spent $737.9 million, more than all of the Republican presidential candidates combined ($624.9 million). But don’t feel sorry for Mitt Romney and the other Republicans, because they took advantage of non-party outside money to the tune of $454.5 million, whereas pro-Obama donors threw in a mere $124.6 million to outside groups. In addition, the Republican National Committee forked out $333.9 million for the presidential contest to the Democratic National Committee’s $197.8 million. That means that all together, Republicans spent about $1.4 billion to win the White House and the Democrats $1.1 billion.


The Republicans also outspent the Democrats in Congressional races, $1.66 billion to $1.54 billion.


So who pocketed all these billions? A great deal of it went to TV networks and local stations. According to an analysis by The Washington Post, pro-Romney forces alone spent at least $492 million on TV ads, 91% of which were negative. The pro-Obama team laid out at least $404 for TV ads, 85% negative. Of the $896 million total, 96% was spent in just ten states. In fact, more than half of the TV ad money went to only three states: Florida, Virginia and Ohio.


But a sizable portion, particularly the money that was spent by outside political action committees (PACs), went to “consultants” and other employees or was spent to raise even more money through fundraising. ProPublica studied one Republican consultancy firm, Russo, Marsh and Associates. Russo, Marsh created a PAC called Our Country Deserves Better and another named the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama. Of the $9.3 million spent by Our Country Deserves Better, $3.8 million went to the employees of Russo, Marsh and Associates or others connected to the firm. Of the $3.9 million spent by the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, $2.4 million went to the firm and its associates.


Some donors become upset when they learn the way their donations were spent, and the PACs know it. After the 2012 election, the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama did not dissolve. Instead it changed its name to the Conservative Campaign Committee…and Russo, Marsh is still fishing for donors.

-David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

The 2012 Election: Our Price Tag (Finally) for the Whole Ball of Wax (by Russ Choma, Center for Responsive Politics)

Mad Money: TV Ads in the 2012 Presidential Campaign (Washington Post)

Inside Game: Creating PACs and then Spending Their Money (by Kim Barker, ProPublica)


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