Price tag for midterm elections exceeds $2.6B
WASHINGTON » Wealthy Americans and legions of small donors are helping finance an onslaught of last-minute political advertising and a fierce voter turnout drive over the next three days, closing out a midterm election that is projected to cost more than $2.6 billion.
Candidates, the national parties and advocacy groups are pumping millions of dollars into a few dozen House and Senate contests that could rearrange the nation's political power structure.
All this money has contributed to perhaps unprecedented saturation of political and issue ads on television. Combined with money spent on ads for governor races and scores of ballot initiatives in the states, the spending on congressional advertising will exceed $2 billion this year, more than was spent in the 2004 presidential election.
The parties, particularly the Democrats, have adapted remarkably well to a 2002 campaign finance law that many thought would render them irrelevant. Democrats and Republicans have tapped a new vein of small donors, and have taken advantage of higher contribution limits to squeeze more money out of the ultra-rich.
Strikingly, the Democrats have used a late burst of fundraising to close a Republican cash advantage and to expand their hunt for competitive races.
At the same time, challengers have raised more money, putting Republican incumbents at risk.
And political action committees set up by labor, business and ideological groups have made a resurgence, raising hundreds of millions of dollars to target specific congressional races.
One thing is for sure: While the 2002 campaign finance law, known as McCain-Feingold, banned unrestricted donations from labor, corporations and the wealthy to the political parties, it did not reduce the amount of money in the political arena.
Four years ago, critics of the law warned that the national Republicans and Democratic organizations would collapse because unlimited "soft money" accounted for half of their funds.
Instead, both parties adjusted their fundraising methods. An analysis by Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College in Maine, found that 38 percent of the money raised by the parties so far has come from donors giving less than $200.