According to a report released by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the 2014 midterm election is officially the most expensive midterm in U.S. history, costing a total of $3.77 billion.
Since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, more money has entered politics than ever before. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations. In this respect, money was seen as a form of political speech and could not be prohibited.
The effects were evident in the amount spent this past electoral cycle. Not only was more money injected into the campaigns, but less people contributed, stopping a 15-year trend of more people donating and getting involved in politics. With less people and more money in the elections, the average campaign contribution from an individual increased from $1,936 in 2010 to an all-time high of $2,639 in 2014.
From 2010 to 2014, the number of donors who contributed to outside groups decreased by 3,680. However, the average donation from an individual went from $1,800 in 2010 to a whopping $8,011 in 2014, a nearly 445 percent increase. These groups are also expanding their influence in elections.
CRP estimates that 14.9 percent of all spending in the 2014 midterms was donated by outside groups. This is a jump from 2010 when only 9 percent of spending was contributed by these groups.
The CRP said Republicans and conservative groups spent $1.766 billion and Democrats and liberal groups spent $1.722 billion — the difference was approximately $44.4 million, which is a relatively small margin when looking at how much spending has increased.
This does not mean all citizens are happy with these changes. Among other groups, Issue One is an organization dedicated to addressing the problem of money in politics. which the group calls the “biggest issue affecting democracy today.”
Issue One believes that money has gained overwhelming influence over the U.S. political system. The organization is attempting to create a bipartisan coalition to limit this trend. The group was created after two of the most prominent campaign finance organizations, Fund for the Republic and Americans for Campaign Reform, joined forces to increase their impact.
There are several other organizations that are working toward this goal as well, including dozens of petitions on Change.org committed to this issue. In 2014, Congress put forward a proposal for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling, although Republicans filibustered the vote in the Senate.
As the costs of elections continue to rise, many predict 2016 will be the most expensive presidential election in U.S. history, topping historic spending in 2012. The Koch brothers’ political network alone has budgeted almost $1 billion for the election cycle.
Meanwhile, candidates outside the major parties are faced with a tougher monetary hurdle to clear, which could hinder their ability to even enter races. With voter turnout at historic lows nationwide, the greatest influence on elections is not the voter; it is money.