America's $5.8 Billion Election: Shocking Facts Behind The Unprecedented Spending

posted on 06-07-2019
Back in 2000, campaign costs for federal races totaled $3.1 billion. Just 12 years later, that number has almost doubled.
This year, funding of federal races for the full campaign cycle is projected to hit an astounding $5.8 billion because of revamped laws on who can donate to political campaigns -- and how much they can give to presidential and congressional candidates.
It's not easy to fathom how much $5.8 billion really is, so here's some help. According to an infographic from MDG Advertising, that kind of cash is enough to:
  • Build 193,333 small businesses from scratch
  • Raise 25,559 children from birth to age 18 in a two-parent, middle-class household
  • Splurge on two Jet Skis for every one of General Electric's hundreds of thousands of employees.
And that's just for starters. Read on for more staggering stats on the 2012 election's record-breaking costs -- including the astonishingly small number of donors who account for two thirds of all super PAC contributions.
Billion -- with a B
Leading up to the 2008 election, President Barack Obama's campaign spent just under $730 million, while Sen. John McCain competed with less than half that amount: $333 million. That's according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This time around, the presidential candidates' campaign fundraising was supplemented with money from super PACs, which are allowed to accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals.
As of October 26, Team Obama had raised $1.08 billion, while Gov. Mitt Romney's team pulled in $1.13 billion, according to The Washington Post.
Here's yet another way to try to wrap your mind around this year's astronomical campaign costs. Plug in your salary here to find out how how quickly Romney's campaign could burn through your yearly pay or here to calculate how fast Obama's campaign could spend it. Say you earn $50,000 per year -- the Republican candidate spends that in just under 47 minutes, and the Democratic incumbent would take just 29 minutes and 12 seconds. 
Sky's The Limit
With no limitations on how much money individuals and organizations can give to super PACs, political contributions have included more zeroes than ever before.
Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his family have so far donated a precedent-setting $53.7 million to independent political groups this election cycle as of October 28. One effect of this less-regulated political giving is that 67% of all super PAC donations ($659 million total through October 17) came from just 209 donors, or groups of related donors, giving $500,000 or more.
Ad Attack
While residents of many states would say they've felt inundated with political advertising, the presidential candidates concentrated their spending in key spots.
National Journal reports that as of November 4, Obama's official campaign committee had spent $72.7 million on advertising in Ohio, the most ad spending in all the swing states. By the same date, the most Romney's official campaign committee had spent on ads in one state was $44 million in Florida. That doesn't include advertising funded by outside political organizations.
The only way those expenses could come close to seeming like a bargain is by making a comparison to Clint Eastwood's "Halftime in America" Chrysler commercial, which cost an estimated $14 million to broadcast for two minutes during the 2012 Super Bowl.
Less Money For More Ads?
Planning ahead paid off for the Obama campaign when it came to its advertising budget. The campaign took advantage of discounted rates for ad buys made months in advance as well as Federal Communications Commission rules that favor candidates over outside spending groups.
Overall, Obama was outspent on advertising by Romney's campaign, but the Democrat aired more ads -- 112,730 compared to 97,407 -- from October 1-21, according to a Wesleyan Media Project study of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political ad placements. The same study found that 86% of pro-Obama advertising was paid for by the president's own campaign. Romney's campaign paid for just 44% of the GOP candidate's advertising, with another 44% coming from outside groups.
General Election Races on a Champagne Budget
It's not just the presidential race that's gone premium. This year's most expensive U.S. Senate race was between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen in Virginia. Adding in spending by super PACs and other outside groups to the totals spent by candidates' own campaigns, combined expenditures for the two campaigns totaled almost $81 million -- more than double the $30 million spent by the candidates alone. These figures were reported as of 2 p.m. CST on November 5.
The most expensive House race this year was between Republican Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy for Florida's District 18 seat. The candidates spent a combined $23.8 million -- with $6.6 million coming from outside spending.
Big States, Big Donations
The states with the highest concentration of big contributions to the 2012 presidential candidates are also the country's most populous. California donated $102 million, and Texas gave $61.6 million.
The lowest? North Dakota at just $659,243 and South Dakota at $1.02 million.
Grassroots Giving
Outsized spending by super PACs is a hot topic this year, but we shouldn't overlook the small donations -- they add up, too. About 34% of the money in Obama's coffers as of October 28 came from individuals who contributed $200 or less. Donors who gave $200 or less accounted for 18% of the money raised by Romney.