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Late donor surges push election spending projections to new heights

Late donor surges push election spending projections to new heights
© Bonnie Cash

The campaigns for president, as well as Senate and House seats are likely to cost nearly $14 billion this year, more than twice as much as candidates and outside groups spent on the last presidential election cycle, according to a new projection

The Center for Responsive Politics had already estimated that this election cycle would be the most expensive ever. But on Wednesday, the group upped its estimate by $3 billion, spurred by a late rush of donations from small-dollar and major donors alike. 

“Donors poured record amounts of money into the 2018 midterms, and 2020 appears to be a continuation of that trend — but magnified,” said Sheila Krumholz, who runs the center.  

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Small-dollar donors giving less than $200 have contributed almost $2.8 billion to candidates and causes this year. Donors giving more than $200 have added up to $5.1 billion.

The projections estimate that President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Ex-Trump appointee arrested in Capitol riot complains he won't be able to sleep in jail Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits MORE and their allies will spend a combined $6.6 billion on the battle for the White House, nearly three times as much as Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: China implicated in Microsoft breach | White House adds Big Tech critic | QAnon unfazed after false prediction Jill Biden redefines role of first lady QAnon supporters unfazed after another false prediction MORE spent in 2016. 

Biden, never a prolific fundraiser, is likely to be the first presidential candidate to raise $1 billion for his campaign account. Biden’s campaign had raised $938 million through Oct. 14, already making him the best-funded presidential candidate ever. That is on top of the $395 million the Democratic National Committee had hauled in. 

Trump has raised $596 million for his own campaign. The Republican National Committee, effectively controlled by Trump’s political team, has raised $642 million for the cycle, boosting their own cash haul north of the 10-figure mark.

Outside groups have added to the eye-popping bottom line, and continue to do so even a week before Election Day. Super PACs and outside groups have already spent $1.2 billion in the month of October alone. 

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Democrats enjoy a massive spending edge over Republicans. So far, Democratic candidates and groups have spent $6.9 billion this cycle, versus just $3.8 billion for their Republican rivals. That number is inflated to a degree by billionaires Tom SteyerTom SteyerGOP targets ballot initiatives after progressive wins On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE and Michael BloombergMichael BloombergAs Trump steps back in the spotlight, will Cuomo exit stage left? 'Lucky': How Warren took down Bloomberg Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison MORE, who spent a combined $1.4 billion on their failed bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. But excluding those two, Democrats have still spent $1.7 billion more than have Republicans. 

“When Citizens United was decided 10 years ago, conservatives were the quickest to jump on the newly permissible outside groups as a way to facilitate huge donations,” said Sarah Bryner, the center’s research director. “Now, liberal groups have more than made up the difference and are taking advantage of every opportunity available to get their message out.” 

Eight of the 10 most expensive races for U.S. Senate seats ever have taken place this year, even before final fundraising tallies are revealed. The race between Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (R-N.C.) and former North Carolina state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) has drawn $265 million, more than any other Senate race in history. 

In South Carolina, former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison (D) has raised more — $107 million through the middle of October — than any candidate who has ever run for a U.S. Senate seat. He has raised about $10 million more than his rival, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits Senate braces for 'God-awful,' 'stupid' session ahead of COVID-19 relief vote MORE (R), had pulled in during his entire Senate career, beginning with his election in 2002.

Las Vegas casino magnates Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are the top individual donors of the cycle, shelling out $183 million to Republican causes. Bloomberg has continued to spend after he ended his own bid for president, dropping $107 million to Democratic candidates and outside groups.  

Bloomberg’s spending will grow — he has committed $15 million in a late advertising blitz aimed at Texas and Ohio.