Record-breaking $5.2 billion election spending in 2018

The Center for Responsive Politics says that more than $5 billion was spent during the 2018 midterm campaign, making it by far the costliest congressional election cycle in U.S. history.

The 2016 election was previously the most expensive congressional election, with just over $4 billion spent for House and Senate candidates in total.

Only two congressional election cycles have surpassed the $4 billion mark — 2016 and 2010 — when adjusted for inflation.

A cash advantage didn’t always translate to success at the polls for congressional candidates but the candidate with more money won most of the time. House incumbents won 93 percent of the time and Senate incumbents won 86 percent of the time.

Fundraising and outside spending trends appear to match up with election results. For the first time ever, outside spending outpaced the amount of money raised by candidates in 28 races. The number may fall as candidates’ final fundraising numbers are filed with the FEC.

Democrats soundly took the House while outraising Republicans by more than $300 million.

Republicans picked up several seats in the Senate despite being outraised overall, but in key toss-up Senate races in red states, candidate fundraising and outside spending totals were generally close.

Eighty-nine percent of House races were won by the biggest spender, compared to 84 percent of Senate races.

When factoring in outside money and fundraising, the House candidate supported by more money won 91 percent of the time and the better-funded Senate candidate won 84 percent of the time.

“Despite record numbers of women, people of color, and first-time candidates running, yesterday’s results show, once again, how powerful money is in our politics,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Whether dark money funneled through super PACs or funds raised from small donors, these midterm elections were deluged with money.”

New Jersey Senate challenger Bob Hugin was unsuccessful running against incumbent Bob Menendez in the blue state, despite a $27.5 million advantage in self-financing. His campaign cost a little more than $20 per vote, while Menendez’s Democratic primary challenger, Lisa McCormick, spent about three cents per vote to garner 159,998 ballots in June.

McCormick, who earned the title as the most financially efficient candidate in the nation, said her campaign was intended to show that money is too important in politics today, and she called for changes to “outlaw bribery” and put more power in the hands of voters.

The distinction for most spent goes to Katie Hill, who knocked off incumbent Steve Knight in California, in a campaign that spent $22 million, which comes out to about $165 per vote.

Pennsylvania Democrat Scott Wallace spent the most money on a losing campaign, just over $101 per vote.

With each passing cycle, more election campaigns are seeing outside group spending outstrip what the candidates themselves are able to muster, as happened in 28 congressional races in 2018.

In New Jersey’s District 3, the candidates spent $10,980,828 while outside groups spent another $13,264,182. In District 7, the candidates spent $10,067,890 while outside groups spent another $10,242,514.

The Senate fundraising numbers are skewed by the biggest Democratic recipients, several of whom set fundraising records in losses.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) lost her seat to Kevin Cramer despite outraising him $27 million to $5.5 million. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) fell to Sen. Ted Cruz despite collecting a record $69 million through Oct. 17.


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