The Washington Post

How the presidential campaigns are spending money, in one chart

Fundraising receives a great deal of attention in politics. But looking at how campaigns and outside groups decide to spend money can be just as revealing. 

If it seems as if various organizations are bringing in and shelling out eye-popping heaps of cash in the presidential election, it's because that's exactly what's happening. As The Washington Post's 2012 Presidential Campaign Finance Explorer shows, President Obama and his allies (including the national Democratic party, a joint fundraising committee, and super PACs) have raised $775 million and spent $606 million. Mitt Romney and his allies have raised even more ($784 million) and spent $534 million. 

So where is the money going? Much of it has gone toward advertising, including television and radio spots. TV advertising remains one of the most effective means of mass communication with voters. It's also very expensive. Running a single ad can cost millions of dollars in the biggest media markets. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have dedicated more to advertising than any other type of expense. Obama and his allies have spent roughly $121 million more on advertising than the GOP side, about $266 million to Republicans' $145 million, as the chart above shows. 

Interestingly, Romney and his allies have dedicated about $29 million more to mail than Obama's side, dishing out nearly $100 million. Direct mail is a much more targeted medium that leaves room for tailoring messages to specific parts of the electorate.

When it comes to payroll and administrative costs, Obama and his allies are outspending the Romney side, suggesting that in terms of staffing and other operational expenses, Republicans may be running a leaner operation. That said, the GOP side has been spending more on consultants. 

Ann Marie Habershaw, the Obama campaign's chief operating officer, represents the payroll top expenditure on the Democratic side, while the GOP side's top payroll expense has been Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

The data also show that it's true you have to spend money to make money in politics. Both sides have spent about $70 million on fundraising.

One more notable observation: Obama's side is outspending Romney and his allies more than 2-1 on polling. 

Check out the complete Campaign Finance Explorer here, where you’ll also find a complete list of the groups that were included in the spending tally, as well as more details about specific expenditures. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.