U.S. Election Spending

Telling Indictment of U.S. Democracy

Spending on the November 2020 U.S. elections broke all previous records according to the U.S. Federal Election Commission. The two main cartel parties, the Republican and Democratic parties, spent the bulk of the total $14 billion.

Election spending during the presidential election cycle included spending to win the White House, 35 Senate seats and 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

The presidential candidates of the two cartel parties spent $6.6 billion, which far exceeds the $2.4 billion in the 2016 presidential race.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was the first candidate in history to raise $1 billion from "donors." Incumbent President Donald Trump raised $596 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, national groups organized as Political Action Committees (PACs) were behind much of the spending. Spending by PACs on advertising during the month of October alone was $1.2 billion, with more of the money going to Biden than Trump.

Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, said that with the creation of Super-PACs 10 years ago, those connected with the Republican Party "were the quickest to jump on the newly permissible outside groups as a way to facilitate huge donations."[1] In the recent election, groups associated with the Democratic Party "have more than made up the difference," Bryner said. The Democrats overtook the Republicans in the "money race" in the 2018 election cycle and increased their domination in 2020. PACs alone spent $5.5 billion for the Democratic Party and $3.8 billion for the Republicans in the recent election.

Money went increasingly online to Facebook and Google with over $1 billion spent on the 2020 election to advertise on those social media platforms, according to OpenSecrets' online ads database, which is connected with the Center.

The Center reports that out-of-state donors were important in certain congressional races. In the so-called swing states of Arizona, North Carolina and Iowa, the vast majority of election money came from outside those states. The Center writes, "In the South Carolina Senate race, where the candidates have spent a record-smashing $164 million (since calculated upwards to $275 million), Democrat Jaime Harrison brought in 93 per cent of his money from out of state, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised 87 per cent from other states. The North Carolina Senate race was the most expensive congressional race of all time, with $265 million (now calculated at $300 million) spent between candidates and outside groups. The Iowa Senate race claimed the No. 2 spot with $218 million in total spending (now exceeded by South Carolina). When all is said and done, at least the top four most expensive Senate races of all time will have taken place in the 2020 election cycle."

The Center says much of the funding for PACs comes from "dark money," which it describes as "spending meant to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed." For example, it says, "Future Forward, a relatively new hybrid PAC that has spent $106 million to back Biden, got $33 million from dark money groups."

According to the Center, the Senate Leadership Fund raising money for Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate Republicans, "received nearly $63 million from its allied dark money group One Nation. This phenomenon means spending by groups that only partially disclose their sources of funding is at record highs. Meanwhile, only 30 per cent of outside spending comes from groups that fully disclose their donors, an all-time low. These big money groups are typically funded by ultra-wealthy individuals. The top 10 donors combined to give $642 million in 2020."

The Center writes, "Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, a physician, have given $183 million to GOP (Republican) candidates and groups, the largest sum any couple has given in a single election cycle. The billionaire couple made most of their donations in the final months of the election, including $75 million to pro-Trump super PAC Preserve America.

"In a repeat of the 2018 cycle, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is the second most generous donor. He's given $107 million to Democratic committees in addition to his billion-dollar self-funding effort in the presidential race. Bloomberg sent $30 million to his flagship super PAC, Independence USA. In the final week of the election, Bloomberg announced he'd spend another $15 million to boost Biden in Texas and Ohio."

The Center continues, "Other deep-pocketed donors have worked their way into the top 10 for the first time. Wyoming investor Timothy Mellon gave $65 million to GOP committees in 2020 after giving $10 million in the 2018 cycle. Republican donor Jeffrey Yass gave $25 million, up from less than $8 million last cycle."

The Center also breaks down the donations by economic sectors writing, "Several industries have flipped over to the Democrats' side under Trump's presidency, including the well-funded miscellaneous finance and securities and investment industries. Real estate is one of the few major industries to stay in the Republicans' corner during the Trump era, giving slightly more to GOP committees than Democrats.

"Given their overall fundraising advantage, it's not surprising that Democrats have gotten more from powerful industries. While Biden's campaign is partly powered by small donors, it's also boosted by Wall Street donors. The securities and investment industry has given $74 million to Biden's campaign and allied super PACs, compared to $18 million for Trump's re-election effort.

"Business interests have given nearly $4.6 billion, up from $3.4 billion throughout the entire 2016 election cycle. Labour, meanwhile, has seen its giving power decline. Through mid-October, labour groups donated $175 million, accounting for a tiny fraction of campaign money."

Georgia Run-Off Senate Elections

In the window of time since the November election to the January 5 run-off for the two Georgia Senate seats, spending on advertising alone by the Republican incumbents and Democratic challengers totalled $486 million with the bulk ($458 million) going to TV ads. The Democrats outspent the Republicans marginally $249 million to $237 million.

According to Ad Impact, most of the half billion dollars came from the two national parties and "outside groups such as super PACs to run ads."


1. From the Center for Responsive Politics Website: “Super PACs are a relatively new type of committee that arose following the July 2010 federal court decision in a case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.

Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit. Super PACs are required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or semiannual basis -- the super PAC's choice -- in off-years, and monthly in the year of an election.”

(With files from Center for Responsive Politics, U.S. Federal Election Commission, Ad Impact, Reuters)

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This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 2 - January 10, 2021

Article Link:
Telling Indictment of U.S. Democracy


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