2010 Set Campaign Spending Records

The 2010 midterm elections had a record-setting $4 billion price tag

January 7, 2011 RSS Feed Print
  • Comment (3)

Even with its byzantine rules and dry legal terminology, campaign finance was a hot topic from the very start of 2010. In his January State of the Union address, President Obama criticized the Supreme Court's then days-old Citizens United v. FEC decision, which loosened campaign spending restrictions, even as the justices sat watching in front of him. "I believe [the decision] will open the floodgates for special interests . . . to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities." Cameras caught Justice Samuel Alito shaking his head in disagreement. [See where members get their campaign cash.]

Thus began what would be a banner year in campaign spending. Candidates, the political parties, and outside groups spent $4 billion on the 2010 congressional elections, more than had been spent in any previous midterm election cycle. The year also featured a crop of high-profile, wealthy candidates, including the top self-funded candidate ever: California Republican Meg Whitman, who spent over $140 million of her own money on her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign. But perhaps the biggest campaign finance story of 2010 was the new landscape made possible by more lenient spending regulations.

A series of recent court decisions, including Citizens United, opened new avenues of campaign spending for some of America's wealthiest entities. This year was the first in which corporations, unions, and other organizations could spend unlimited sums advocating for or against particular candidates. Groups promoting Republicans came to dominate this so-called outside spending, dropping $191 million, upwards of $70 million more than GOP-allied groups had spent in any previous election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Groups aligned with Democrats, on the other hand, spent only $92 million this year.

The conservative group American Crossroads and its nonprofit arm, Crossroads GPS—both cofounded in 2010 by former George W. Bush advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie—outspent all other groups with $39 million. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was next, spending $33 million, mostly on Republican candidates. Indeed, the top ranks were filled with right-leaning groups. Among the top 10 outside spenders, only two predominantly supported Democratic candidates.

A substantial portion of the midterm election outside spending was shrouded in secrecy, as some of the biggest spenders were nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. All told, four of the top 10 spending organizations did not disclose who funded their election-related activities.

Because of the volume of money and the secrecy about donors, many Democrats lamented the new rules. The Obama administration accused the Chamber of promoting special and foreign interests. The top-spending organizations, however, say the new regulations merely facilitate free speech. "There was a lot of anger and frustration with the way the country's gone in the last two years, and so people were motivated to give," says Carl Forti, political director of American Crossroads.

As campaign spending tends to be far higher in presidential election years than in midterm years, the record-breaking 2010 cycle may have been only a test run for an even more exorbitant 2012 campaign.

2010 Congressional elections,
Democratic Party,
2012 presidential election,
Republican Party

Reader Comments Read all comments (3)

Add Your Thoughts
Your comment will be posted immediately, unless it is spam or contains profanity. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ.

Corporations may be "persons" but they are definitely not citizens and only citizens can vote. Therefore, only citizens should be allowed to take part in the politic system. Corporations should neither be allowed to influence nor lobby in the political process, nor to put in their 2 cents or $2M in that same process. Only individual citizens, or groups consisting of citizens, where the individuals participating shall be individually named, should be able to partake of the political process.

CDM Riverside, CA

Catherine of CA 2:42AM January 15, 2011

after three years of roberry in south of france start with press documents sacem songs and royalties some in french army with a marocco a turkish and some dutchs roberts try to keep the medias quiet;;;;;well where is the investigation do the jewish in france get another treatment yes ;;;;;;lies keep longer in this country so what a name of a woman in french army ministery of defense friends of bruno bruni, guy crouzet karel hermann anc compagny van heneigen; rene marc debieuvre and all the mayors in south of france the franc maçonnerie and extreme right get the country in france and nederland on the control again i ask the american nationality it hope to you and happy new year in 2011 doesn't like eleven,,,,,im alone my phone doesn't work impossible to get any call from america or england the freedoom of speech today in 2011 in france and how to spend furiousely money you dont own france and nederland need to give us explications how many jewish be abuse end.....Joelle esther benyayer like the song i wrote they dont succed to destroy the new york vib and yep my vibs for the music and the nonnestely is only word i share what you think about it and the french ;;;;;what it is game to the president of united states of america sir i need some help

joelle esther benyayer of WA 6:24AM January 10, 2011

For all the money that was spent, surveys show many voters are grossly uninformed or misinformed about the issues and candidates.

So much of this money was spent with contempt for our democratic processes with intent to undermine public interest in favor of an economic tyranny dominated by a pack of wealthy Economic Royalists.

Its strong evidence we need Election Reforms that remove all the corrupting money from elections.

Lyle of MN 4:50PM January 08, 2011

Photo Galleries

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign

The pope said his failing health has forced him to step down.


Latest Videos