It’s still 10 months from Election Day, but the amount of money raised to fund this year’s congressional races already numbers in the hundreds of millions. Early indicators suggest that 2014 could see the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history. Candidates have officially collected $446 million through their campaign committees, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Most worrisome for many concerned about the avalanche of money in the political system is the cash originating from a few wealthy donors and corporations, then funneled through outside groups like trade associations, nonprofits affiliated with political causes, and commitees, or “super PACs,” closely allied with candidates. These so-called independent expenditures have already topped $25.5 million for 2014 and the 2013 special elections. That figure outpaces the $21.2 million spent at this point in the 2012 cycle and dwarfs the $8.5 million spent by this time in 2010. Much more is expected to flow in as candidates vie in competitive primaries and the general election season gets into full swing.
In 2010 and 2012, campaign spending in congressional elections hovered near an eye-popping $3.6 billion, including $1 billion in independent expenditures. Observers agree that the current upward trajectory of money spent on campaigns is fueled by these loosely independent outside groups, which were given rein to spend unlimited sums by the blockbuster Supreme Court Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010.
“I would guess that based on recent history, we would see a more expensive election cycle than in 2010,” said Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics, “and that I think is driven largely by what we call outside spending, super PAC spending and political activity by political nonprofits.”