The total price tag for the 2014 midterms -- an election which almost no one is paying attention to -- will be nearly $4 billion, according to projections released Wednesday by the Center for Responsive Politics. That would make it the most expensive midterm election in history and set the stage for a 2016 presidential contest that could approach double-digit billions in spending.
The vast majority of that sum -- $2.7 billion -- will be spent by candidates and parties. (Republicans are expected to spend slightly more -- $1.92 billion to $1.76 billion.) But an additional $900 million will come from outside groups, a sum that rivals the $1.2 billion those organizations spent in the 2012 presidential cycle.
"So far, at least $663.3 million has been spent by outside groups like super PACs and 527s (a figure that is current within the last 48 hours), but CRP’s projections based on the pattern in the 2012 cycle indicate that at least another $233.5 million remains to be spent in the 12 days before Nov. 4," according to the Center. "That’s a rate of $19.4 million a day."
Interestingly, CRP is projecting that liberal groups will actually outspend conservatives ones, albeit in narrowly. (The CPR projection is $433 million spent by liberal groups to $424 million by conservative ones.) That spending, as they note, does not include nonprofit 501(c)(4) groups like the Koch brothers-aligned Americans for Prosperity, which have spent heavily on the election. "Overall, it’s likely that at least $100 million in spending is not being counted, and that money leans distinctly to the right, records filed with the Federal Communications Commission indicate. If that’s an accurate estimate, any advantage the liberal outside spending groups have over conservative ones will be washed away by Election Day," reads the memo.
Here's some perspective on how astronomically the cost of elections have soared over the past few years. In 2008, according to CRP calculations, $2.8 million was spent on the presidential race. In 2004, "just" $1.9 billion was spent. So, the cost of the 2010 midterms is projected to be roughly double what was spent on a presidential election just a decade ago. Double!
With all of the money pouring into the process, there are some who believe that campaign finance reform's time might be coming (again). In a piece profiling campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, the New Yorker's Evan Osnos writes that Wertheimer is convinced that "unlimited contributions, corporate money and secret money" are producing a toxic brew reminiscent of the Jack Abramoff scandal. Osnos, however, concludes:
A heat map of conversations in our nation’s capital this week would show that campaign-finance reform is generating about as much urgent attention as the disappearance of the honeybee. If the reflexive talking point in San Francisco is to bet on disruption, the conventional line in Washington is that the forces arrayed against change are the stronger ones.
Osnos's second sentence there is telling. Money and politics always seem to find their way to one another -- no matter what blockades are thrown in their paths. It's hard to imagine elections getting any less expensive any time soon. Or any broad swath of the public really caring.
Correction: A previous version of this blog incorrectly referred to the 2010 midterm elections.