The Outrageous Cost of Getting Elected to Congress
Policy + Politics

The Outrageous Cost of Getting Elected to Congress


Successful House candidates spent twice as much in the 2012 elections than they did in 1986, according to updated figures released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.

The increase is particularly striking, says Sarah Wheaton at The New York Times, when you take into account the fact that "most House races are not as competitive as they once were."

How expensive is it to win a seat in Congress? Here is a look at campaign costs, by the numbers:

Amount spent (in 2012 dollars), on average, in 1986 House elections

$1.6 million
Average amount winners spent in 2012


$1.3 million
Average spent by 256 incumbents among 2012 winners who won re-election in safe districts (where they won with 60 percent of the vote or more)

Amount spent by their long-shot challengers, on average

$2.3 million
Average spending by 100 swing-state incumbents in 2012 who held onto their seats with less than 60 percent of the vote

Amount spent by their challengers' campaigns, on average

$3.1 million
Average spending by the 32 House incumbents who lost their re-election bids in 2012

$2.5 million
Average spending by those ousted incumbents' victorious challengers

House members from "swing" districts in 1992 (defined as districts where the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result)

House members from "swing" districts in 2012 (the most prominent reason for the change is post-Census redistricting, which governing parties have used to draw lines favoring their side)

$6.4 million
Amount spent by the average winning Senate candidate in 1986 (measured in 2012 dollars)

$10.4 million
Amount spent by Senate winners in 2012

$174 million
Additional spending by Democrat-aligned super PACs in the 2012 general election season. These organizations are providing a growing infusion of outside money into key races, especially in swing states

$295 million
Spending by Republican-aligned super PACs in the 2012 general election season

$6.3 million
Spending by all other super PACs in the same period

$111 million
Additional spending by Democratic party committees in 2012

$137 million
Spending by Republican party committees

$546.5 million
Total spending by 266 super PACs in 2012

Percentage of that money spent to oppose candidates

$290.9 million
Amount spent to oppose President Obama in 2012

$94 million
Amount spent to oppose Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican challenger

Sources: Brookings Institution, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Outside the Beltway, Sunlight Foundation

This article by Harold Maass originally appeared at Read more from
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