WASHINGTON — This year's federal election is expected to set a new record for spending, $5.3 billion or 27 percent more than the 2004 elections for president, the Senate and the House cost. The Center for Responsive Politics said that when all the tallies are in, the Democrats will have collected 52 percent more money for their presidential and congressional elections than four years ago.
Most of the big contributions are coming from the usual players: lawyers, financial institutions, labor unions, prescription drug makers, health professionals, the real estate business, and ideological groups. Democrats have a slight edge over the GOP in campaign gifts from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors.
Sheila Krumholz, the CRP's executive director, said incumbents running for the House and Senate as usual "hold a huge advantage" over challengers in fund-raising.
The average Senate incumbent has raised $8.3 million (which includes money raised since the start of the six-year term in 2003), to the average challenger's $850,000, an advantage of nearly 10 to 1, she said.
Krumholz said "the incumbent's advantage in the House is also lop-sided.
"Members of the House have raised approximately $1.2 million through the third quarter of this year, on average, while their opponents have raised an average of $286,000 -- a 4 to 1 edge for the seat-holder."
Candidates for Congress in 2008 have spent nearly $95 million from their own pockets to get elected, she said.
"You can't win a seat in Congress without being personally wealthy or knowing a lot of wealthy people who are willing to back you with their money," Krumholz said. "With Election Day coming up, it’s important for candidates and citizens to remember that you can't win without votes, either."
Although one million persons have made campaign gifts of $200 or more in this two-year cycle, the donors still represent only a half of one percent of all adult Americans.
"Many new donors have been brought into the fold in 2008, but participation in this element of our democracy isn't representative of the electorate or the nation as a whole," Krumholz said. "The typical campaign contributor showing up in government data is still typically a lawyer, a Wall Street banker, a doctor, a CEO or a college professor at a major university. For all their influence at the polls, guys like Joe the Plumber aren't typically campaign contributors. You're more likely to see John the Bond Trader bankrolling these campaigns."