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Introduction

Part 1: Big Money
The Cost of Winning
Part 2: The Issues
What's For Sale?
Part 3: Past Reforms
A Look at the Laws
Part 4: Soft Money
A Look at the Loopholes
Part 5: The Allegations
The Excesses of '96
Part 6: Where It Stands
Today's Reform Proposals
By Dan Froomkin
Washingtonpost.com Staff
Monday, September 15, 1997

Part 1:
Big Money - The Cost of Winning

Campaign finance is a confusing topic in many ways. But it is money which, arguably, determines the very basics of our democracy: Who runs, who wins, and how they govern.

The amount of money needed to win a federal election these days -- most notably, the presidency -- is enormous. The Clinton and Dole campaigns spent about $232 million in the 1996 campaign cycle -- supplemented by about $69 million in "issue ads" paid for by the Republican and Democratic national committees. Across the country, Election '96 cost about $2.7 billion, the costliest ever.

Average Cost of Winning a Seat in Congress, 1996

Senate $3,765,000
House $675,000
Source: Federal Election Commission
It takes money to pay a campaign staff and buy materials. It takes money for a campaign to be taken seriously by the press. It even takes money to raise more money.

Perhaps more than anything, it takes an awful lot of money to buy television and radio ads -- which are virtually mandatory for any national political campaign and for many local and statewide ones as well.

From the Post

In Presidential Race, TV Ads Were Biggest '96 Cost by Far, March 31, 1997

For example, a massive television advertising blitz that started in October 1995 greatly contributed to the Clinton reelection victory by retuning his image and drowning out any competing message. It didn't come cheap. The ads -- which were paid for by the Democratic National Committee, not by the Clinton/Gore campaign -- cost about $44 million.

In congressional campaigns, the amounts are smaller, but money generally plays a huge role. Big coffers scare away challengers; advertising can swing races. As a result, members of Congress spend a lot of time and energy -- and money -- raising funds for their next election.

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© Copyright 1997 Digital Ink Company

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