Campaign

What did $4 billion buy?

What does close to $4 billion buy you? In August, Apple bought Beats Electronics for only $3 billion. On Tuesday, it bought us our new House and Senate (Apple spent less than $150k on the campaign), despite voter turnout being down considerably from 2012 in many states.

We now know who benefited most from this lavish spending. The Center for Responsive Politics lists five Senate races as the most expensive, totaling nearly $180 million in direct spending, alone. Minority Leader (for now) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have been Tuesday’s big victor, not only winning control of the Senate back from the Democrats, but also totaling $25 million in campaign expenditures. McConnell was second only to Sen. Al Franken’s (D) $28 million, nearly five times his opponent in Minnesota.

Following Kentucky was Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina and Colorado, yet the candidate who spent the most didn’t always win Tuesday. Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.) and  Mark Udall (Colo.) and Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn (Ga.) each outspent their opponents, but none won.

{mosads}What candidate spending obscures, of course, is the role of outside money. Super-PACs made up the spending difference in Colorado and North Carolina. Supporters of Sen.-elect Cory Gardner (R) spent $39 million in Colorado, and those opposed to Hagan in North Carolina poured in $52 million. Yet, despite the GOP advantage in those two races, outside spenders supported Democrats and Republicans nearly equally across the country.

The 527 committees — the organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money, but are restricted from directly supporting candidates — ponied up as well. ActBlue spent the most, $14.6 million, but the College Republicans weren’t far behind, at $14.1 million.

Perhaps most intriguing (or just fun) is how fashionable campaigning has become. Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Anna Wintour all gave in the thousands to the DNC Services Corp. And Franken was laughing all the way to victory with the help of Steve Martin, Larry David and Lorne Michaels.

What does this mean for 2016? If historical trends hold, and approximately the same amount is spent on the 2016 presidential campaign as on the 2016 congressional campaigns, it is hard to imagine we will dip below $8 billion. And with the impacts of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission just now registering for our political system, it is reasonable to think we might exceed that figure in the future.

There will be much handwringing in the next few weeks about the role of money in politics, but likely little action. Lawrence Lessig’s Super-PAC (Mayday PAC) that aims to support candidates who pledge to reform campaigns, spent $7.5 million, but backed just one winner, Rep. Walter Jones (R) in North Carolina. There are a host of potential reforms to reign in campaign spending, but after Citizens United and McCutcheon, little enthusiasm to pass new laws to increase donor disclosure, cap donations and limit outside spending.

Brown is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is the author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition (Routledge, 2012).

Tags Al Franken Campaign finance Citizens United Kay Hagan Mark Udall McCutcheon Michelle Nunn Mitch McConnell Walter Jones

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