Television ads, yard signs, billboards, and mailboxes full of fliers inform voters about who is on the ballot and what they stand for. But they are not cheap. This midterm election cycle, voter turnout and participation was high and, as one might suspect, so was the price of running a campaign.
Now it seems to matter less and less where, at least geographically, that money comes from.
As of the end of October, the last federal deadline for campaigns to report their fundraising and spending before Election Day, $7.4 billion had been spent among candidates, party committees and political action committees. But with big spending increases through Election Day, that total could climb to $9.3 billion or more. The total amount of money spent by the candidates alone exceeded $3 billion, an increase of 12% compared to the 2018 midterm elections, covering expenses such as ads, rallies, travel and other campaign costs.
A significant portion of the candidates’ funding (around $2.6 billion) was solicited from individual donors. Total contributions from individual donors accounted for about 70% of all money raised by congressional candidates this cycle. Donations from individuals come in different sizes up to $2,900 per candidate per race.
Campaigns often value small donors (those who give $10, $50 or $100) because they often indicate the extent of grassroots support for a candidate. Individual donors, regardless of number, are more likely to vote and also to actively participate, giving time and energy along with their money. In Georgia’s high-profile Senate race, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock raised a whopping $123 million, about two-thirds of which came from individual contributions of $200 or less.
But once individual contributions exceed $200, donations are broken down, revealing the contributor’s address, among other details. And from them, analysts can determine the cash flow to the campaigns. Interestingly, donors to congressional campaigns do not have to be residents of the state in which their favorite candidate is running. And with increasing political polarization and both sides vying for the grand prize, control of the House and Senate, donors are increasingly sending money out of their states and districts into competitive races where control of Congress is at stake. In fact, during the 2022 midterms, most of those itemized donations were sent across state lines.
Of all the money donated by people who disclosed their status along with an itemized donation, 46% was given by taxpayers to candidates in their own state, while 54% went to candidates outside of their state.
Senate candidates, especially those who were in a position to tip the House scales 50-50, were more likely to benefit from itemized out-of-state contributions. About 35% of detailed donations of $200 or more to Senate candidates came from people in the candidate’s state, compared to 55% for House candidates. States with high-profile senatorial races included Nevada, New Hampshire and Georgia, all three of which had candidates who received more than 70% of their individual itemized donations from out-of-state taxpayers. Idaho was the most inundated with outside funding at nearly 80%, while Tennessee was the most self-sufficient at 23%.
Georgia, with its high-profile race between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, received the most money (nearly $90 million) in detailed donations from out-of-states this cycle. Much of that came from the big states, with $21.4 million from Florida, New York and Texas combined, and $17.4 million from California alone. Those four states were the most generous overall, sending roughly $400 million across state lines, each giving a larger share to out-of-state than in-state candidates.
Excluding the District of Columbia, Massachusetts residents gave the smallest percentage to their own candidates, with only 10% of the more than $53 million donated by Massachusettsns going to Massachusetts candidates. It is worth noting that there were no Senate seats up for election in Massachusetts this cycle. Similarly, only 19% of Idaho’s donations remained in the state. Meanwhile, Iowa and Alaska taxpayers kept the most giving close to home, at 83% and 81%, respectively.
Along party lines, Democratic candidates were more likely to receive a detailed contribution from an individual out of state. This cycle, Democratic candidates received more than $900 million from individual itemized taxpayers, 43% of which came from state taxpayers. By contrast, the Republican candidates received nearly $800 million from individual taxpayers listed, 50% of which came from state donors.
With some advocating spending limits because of the effect high contributions can have on the outcome of an election, the phenomenon is expected to expand. Campaign spending is projected to continue to grow into the 2024 election cycle, as an angry and almost equally divided electorate turns state and local races into national campaigns.