Election to Cost Nearly $4 Billion, Center for Responsive Politcs (CRP) Projects, Topping Previous Midterms
October 22, 2014


Almost $4 billion will be spent for this year’s midterm election, the Center for Responsive Politics is projecting. That figure makes this year’s election by far the most expensive midterm ever. The candidates and parties alone will combine to spend about $2.7 billion, while outside groups will likely spend close to $900 million on their own — a figure that veers close to the $1.3 billion spent by outside groups in 2012, when the hyper-expensive presidential race was fueling the fire.

By the end of the battle, when totals for every category are added together, Team Red will outspend Team Blue, CRP projects. GOP and conservative-leaning candidates, party committees and outside groups will spend at least $1.92 billion, compared to at least $1.76 billion their rivals on the Democratic and liberal-leaning side will spend.

In several categories — spending by House and Senate campaign committees, and money spent by secretive outside groups – conservative or Republican groups are projected to outdo their more liberal counterparts by a wide margin. Democrats and liberals will hold a slight lead when it comes to House and Senate party committee spending, and in the amount spent overall by outside groups. That lead in outside group spending, however, does not include money that groups spent on certain kinds of ads that didn’t have to be reported to the FEC if they were aired more than two months before the election (or 30 days before a primary); conservative groups appear to have dominated in that category.

The 2010 midterm cost $3.6 billion; this one will run an estimated $333 million more than that. The congressional portion of the 2012 race cost about $3.6 billion as well.

These projections are based on spending totals reported by campaigns and committees and outside groups through June 30 or Aug. 31, depending on the Federal Election Commission filing schedule they follow. A more detailed projection of the total cost of the election, taking into account numbers current through the end of September, will be released by CRP next week. These projections were developed by CRP researchers using models based on the 2010 election cycle. The Center has been projecting the cost of the election in every cycle since 1996.

Outside Money Explosion

As with the 2012 cycle, the explosion in outside money is a dominant theme of this election’s spending story. So far, at least $663.3 million has been spent by outside groups like super PACs and 527s (a figure that is current within the last 48 hours), but CRP’s projections based on the pattern in the 2012 cycle indicate that at least another $233.5 million remains to be spent in the 12 days before Nov. 4; that’s a rate of $19.4 million a day.

Overall, liberal outside groups — including 527s — have spent $308.9 million so far, while conservative groups have spent $327.1 million. CRP is projecting that by Election Day, that dynamic will have flipped, with liberal outside groups slightly outspending conservative outside groups, $433 million to $424 million.

Those figures, however, come with a major caveat. Our estimate is based on spending disclosed to the FEC. Again, certain ads don’t have to be reported, and it’s difficult to get a fix on exactly how much they cost. One group that began running these so-called “issue ads” in North Carolina and other states as long ago as late 2013 is Americans for Prosperity, a conservative 501(c)(4) organization under the tax code; AFP, which says it spent tens of millions on such ads, and similar political nonprofits aren’t required to disclose the identities of their donors, either.

Overall, it’s likely that at least $100 million in spending is not being counted, and that money leans distinctly to the right, records filed with the Federal Communications Commission indicate. If that’s an accurate estimate, any advantage the liberal outside spending groups have over conservative ones will be washed away by Election Day.

Outside spending by groups — mostly super PACs — that disclose their donors, on the other hand, is dominated by the left. So far, liberal outside groups that name their donors have logged $197.4 million in reported spending, compared to similar groups on the right that have spent only $132.1 million. By Nov. 4, CRP projects that these liberal groups will spend $270.5 million, and conservative ones will spend just $181.1 million.

Among groups that CRP has deemed as “partially disclosing,” meaning that some donors are known but at least some money comes from opaque sources (like secretive nonprofit organizations), the spending shifts heavily in favor of the right. Partially disclosing liberal outside groups have spent $20.5 million, and by Election Day will spend just under $5 million more. Conservative outside groups that partially disclose their donors, however, have already spent $67.6 million and are projected to spend $83.7 million — an additional $16.1 million.

As for groups that hide all of their donors, there is a vast gap between the two sides, and it will not close before Election Day. So far, secretive liberal groups have reported spending $24.6 million, according to their FEC filings, or about a quarter of the $99.5 million spent by their conservative counterparts. By the time the polls close, liberal groups that hide their donors will have spent roughly $3.4 million more (a total of $28 million), while comparable conservative groups are projected to spend $113.6 million.

Congressional Fundraising

Democratic candidates are currently being outspent by Republican candidates in both houses of Congress — a trend that CRP projects will continue through Nov. 4.

In the House, Democratic candidates have spent $195.5 million, while Republican candidates have spent $270.9 million — a 58-42 advantage for the GOP. By Election Day, CRP projects, the ratio will be roughly the same, with Democratic candidates spending a total of $426.1 million, which will be dwarfed by the $591.1 million spent by Republican candidates.

In the Senate the ratio is, and will be, closer. Current data shows that Democratic Senate candidates have spent $153.1 million versus $184.8 million spent by Republican Senate hopefuls. CRP researchers project that ratio — 54 percent of all Senate campaign cash being spent by Republicans compared to 45 percent by Democratic candidates — will hold, and Democratic candidates will finish having spent $292.7 million, in contrast to $353.3 million by Republican candidates.

Party Fundraising

With the rise of outside groups, the national party structures have been undermined to a certain degree. Super PACs and politically-active nonprofits give big donors many more ways to support their preferred party and candidates. That may be one reason why both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committees are projected to spend less than they did four years ago. The DNC has spent $114.8 million so far, lagging behind the RNC’s $125 million, and CRP projects it will spend $155.3 million to the RNC’s projected $169.1 million. In 2010, the DNC spent $228.3 million and the RNC, $215.7 million — significantly more than this time around. For the Democrats, that’s a significant decline from 2010, when the DNC spent $228.3 million. Similarly, the RNC spent $215.7 million in 2010.

The same is not true, though, of the other left-leaning party committees, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Possibly because of President Obama’s vigorous fundraising for those groups, they are projected by CRP to spend a total of $427 million by Election Day. That is the single area where Democrats are projected to have a significant advantage. Republican equivalents — the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee — are projected to spent $330.9 million.

In terms of fundraising, CRP estimates that all parties and committees will combine to raise $4.2 billion, though only $2.3 billion has been raised so far.