Money can’t buy happiness or elections, but it makes life easier

Money can’t buy happiness or elections, but it makes life easier
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Last week, after the third quarter closed, we began learning about the massive fundraising hauls of some of the competitive congressional candidates. As The Hill’s Mike Lillis reported, many Democratic candidates posted impressive numbers: “60 have topped $1 million; 30 have surpassed $2 million; and eight have exceeded $3 million.”

Along with this, and amid the controversial debate over Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSecond ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Supreme Court hands Virginia Democrats a win in gerrymandering case MORE's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced that he would give $20 million to the Democratic super PAC that is focused on winning the Senate majority.


While money doesn’t win elections — and the more that is spent during a campaign, the less bang a candidate gets for each buck spent — there’s little doubt that it helps. It mostly helps campaigns buy television and digital advertising spots, which in turn raise the candidate’s recognition among the voters. As political scientists Gary Jacobson and Jamie Carson explain, “If challengers cannot raise lots of money, they can forget about winning.”

Still, this doesn’t mean that that these Democratic challengers will win. It does mean that many GOP incumbents are on their heels this year. As Jacobson and Carson noted, “Losing House incumbents between 1992 and 2014 spent an average of nearly $2.5 million in inflation-adjusted dollars (2014 = 1.00); 92 percent spent more than $1 million; 73 percent outspent their challenger with an average spending of more than $700,000.”

In short, as Jacobson noted in another article, “Low-spending challengers virtually never win, no matter what the incumbent spends; and high-spending challengers sometimes win, no matter what the incumbent spends.”

Looking more granularly at the competitive contests rated by the Cook Political Report, there are 23 Republican incumbents rated as “toss-ups,” the number needed for Democrats to secure the House majority. A review of the amount raised shows that their Democratic challengers were already in very good shape going into the third quarter. As of June 30, these 23 Republican incumbents had raised on average about $2.4 million, whereas their Democratic challengers had raised on average about $2.2 million.

What’s more, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, four of the party’s top raisers for the third quarter — Amy McGrath ($3.65 million), Josh Harder ($3.5 million), Sean Casten ($2.6 million), and Tom Malinowski ($2.2 million) — are running in these races. In New Jersey, Malinowski already had more cash-on-hand heading into the third quarter than the Republican Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LancePush for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems Incoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE ($1.63 million and $1.15 million, respectively). And while sometimes the cash-on-hand figures can be misleading because of the different times that candidates choose to spend their money (i.e., purchase advertising buys) that isn’t the case here. Through June 30, Malinowski had raised nearly $800,000 more than Lance.

Challengers almost never out-fundraise incumbents. But Malinowski isn’t alone. In nine of these 23 contests, the Democratic challengers were ahead in fundraising.

Although Republicans are hopeful that the Senate races may save the party from electoral wipeout, a similar analysis of the fundraising in the toss-up contests proves less optimistic. In the five toss-up seats held by Democrats (Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota), the Democratic incumbents had raised an average of $15.7 million through June 30, whereas the Republican challengers had raised on average $5.5 million.

In the two toss-up seats with Republican incumbents (Nevada and Texas), the Democratic challengers were again in a better position. In Nevada, GOP Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE had raised $10.7 million, whereas his Democratic challenger Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster MORE had raised $9.2 million; in Texas, Republican Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP frets about Trump's poll numbers GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers GOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias MORE and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke each raised about $23.3 million.

Said another way, going into the third quarter, Republican Senate challengers had raised about 34 percent of what the Democratic incumbents had, but the Democratic Senate challengers had posted nearly 96 percent of the amount raised by Republican incumbents. Furthermore, in both of the open toss-up Senate seats, the Democratic candidates, Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona and Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, had raised more than their Republican opponents.

We’ll learn next week whether many of these fundraising trends held through the third quarter (reports are made public on Oct. 15). But all of these numbers look to be yet another sign that Democrats are on their way towards winning the majority in the House — and they may be able to hold off a Republican surge in the Senate. No doubt, voter enthusiasm and candidate messages matter, but money sure makes campaigning easier.

Lara M. Brown, Ph.D., is an associate professor and director of the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University, and formerly was an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University. She frequently appears on TV and radio programs as an expert on American political history, party development and national elections. Follow her on Twitter @LaraMBrownPhD.