Photo Courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures
By Chris Carey
Each election cycle, political junkies and disenfranchised citizens have a similar conversation on campaign finance and how campaigns ought to be funded on a local, state, and federal level. With such historic candidate backers such as the Koch brothers and the emergence of Political Action Committees (PACs) in recent years, it is no surprise that with each election, campaign finance records are broken, for better or for worse.
In 2020, with highly contested Senate races, many House races teetering between the aisle, and with campaigns aimed to save the “Soul of Our Nation” and “Make America Great Again,” exorbitant amounts of cash were expectedly thrown about.
According to Open Secrets, the 2020 races from sea to shining sea come with a hefty price tag – nearly $14 billion, the most spent on any election cycle. To give some perspective, the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump saw about $2.4 billion while corresponding 2016 House and Senate races raked in $4.1 billion. This year, the Presidential race expenditures alone measured $6.6 billion, with House and Senate races nearly doubling to $7.2 billion.
Democrats’ hatred for the 45th President translated almost directly into a campaign war chest that dwarfs all others. The Biden Campaign raised a record more than $1 billion from donors, not counting the special interest investments in the campaign that did not travel through the committee. Trump’s strong showing of nearly $600 million is nothing to sneeze at; however, when compared to the nearly insurmountable funds raised by Biden and Harris, there was a clear money advantage for the Democrats.
A number of Senate races saw enormous influxes of cash as well. In particular, Jaime Harrison, who unsuccessfully challenged Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, broke a single quarter fundraising record with $57 million in his final full quarter, per CNN.
During the final quarter of this cycle, more than eight democratic challengers raised more than $20 million. Some of these democratic challengers looking to flip the Senate from red to blue were successful, but most were not. Former Governor of Montana Steve Bullock failed in his challenge to take down Senator Steve Daines. Likewise, Amy McGrath, who challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fell short of the task.
In states such as Arizona and Colorado, however, Senators-Elect Kelly and Hickenlooper serve as testimony to the efficacy of fundraising hauls in removing officeholders. As Nathan Gonzalez, publisher of Inside Elections, states, “President Donald Trump is the best fundraiser Democrats could ever ask for.”
The incredible fundraising numbers seen in this election cycle offer a number of perplexing questions. In many of the races where Democrats raised huge amounts of cash, the Republican incumbent won, such as with Senators Graham and McConnell. On the other hand, Joe Biden’s commanding use of financial resources cemented his overwhelming victory as he flipped a number of states that President Trump won four years ago. Much like with polling, the effects of campaign financing are better served when the races are considered with a mind to the locals, and not with a mind to the national fervor of the time.
At the end of the day, an election is won through getting the most votes. When used effectively, large sums of cash can translate to votes; however, oftentimes that battle is far too difficult, even for all the riches in the world.