Costs Skyrocket in “Tossup” Races; $250 Million to be Spent on Just 43 Seats

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  • Dale Eisman

Candidates in the nation’s most closely contested House races this fall are on track to spend more than $250 million, an average of about $5.8 million per seat, according to projections released today by Common Cause.

Just over $127 million already has been spent in the 43 districts rated as “tossups” by Congressional Quarterly; that’s more than one-sixth of the total spent on all 435 House seats.

If past election spending trends hold, each of the tossup seats will end up costing about 75 percent more than the projected House average of $3.3 million, the analysis indicated. In the 2008 election, the average spent per seat was $1.8 million; the average first topped $1 million in 2000.

The study builds on data released earlier this week by Public Campaign Action Group, another watchdog organization, projecting that the total cost of House races this year will top $1.44 billion, more that $600 million above the previous record, set in 2008.

The figures developed by Common Cause and Public Campaign do not include millions of dollars being spent on the election by corporations, trade associations, unions and other “independent” groups. Those groups already have spent about $265 million on House and Senate contests and are expected to invest as much as $400 million, most of it from anonymous donors.

The outside groups spent just over $300 million in 2008, a presidential election year, but only about $69 million in the last midterm election, in 2006, according to figures compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

“These numbers underscore the need for a different approach to campaign finance, the Fair Elections Now Act,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “The need for such large sums of money currently drives candidates into the arms of corporate, trade association and other special interest donors, who always want a return on their investment after Election Day.”

Fair Elections Now would allow candidates to swear off political action committee, corporate, and union funds and run on a blend of small contributions ($100 or less) from individuals and grants from a new Fair Elections Fund. The fund would be drawn from the proceeds of lease sales of publicly-owned broadcast spectrum, so there would be no cost to taxpayers.

Total candidate spending in 43 “tossup” districts.

$127,160,426 (as of Sept. 30)

$250,506.039 (projected by Election Day)

Average per tossup district

$2,957,219 (as of Sept. 30)

$5,825,721 (projected by Election Day)

Total spending for all districts

$ 733,370,808 (as of Sept. 30)

$1,444,883,640 (projected by Election Day)

Average for all districts

$1,685,909 (as of Sept. 30)

$3,321,571 (projected by Election Day)

Candidate Spending history

2008: $808,001,712 ($1,857,475 per district)

2006: $751,730,068 ($1,728,115 per district)

2004: $581,483,185 ($1,336,742 per district)

2002: $525,986,157 ($1,209,163 per district)

2000: $514,793,499 ($1,183,433 per district)

Sources: Campaign Finance Institute, Public Campaign Action Fund