Tonight's Winner: Big Money

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To: Editorial Writers and Interested Journalists
From: Public Campaign Action Fund
Date: November 2, 2010
Subject: Tonight’s winner--big money

The 2010 election has been dominated by headlines about anonymous donors, special interest influence, and record-breaking campaign spending and fundraising. Democrats will say Republican millionaires bought the election. Republicans will say that voters are just angry at Congress’ leftward shift and responded with their money and their votes. Both are too simplistic.

The real winner tonight is big money and the undue influence these major donors and corporations will have on the 112th Congress.

Here’s our take on the major trends this election cycle:


  • A lot of ink has been spilled about outside spending—but candidates themselves raised and spent campaign cash at record levels. We don’t have the final numbers yet, but House and Senate candidates were on track to spend nearly $2 billion this election cycle. Outside spending fueled this dramatic increase in fundraising by widening the number of races in play and forcing candidates to spend more time raising money to defend themselves instead of allowing them to use their time talking with voters.
  • Secret donors spent hundreds of millions this election cycle. We may not know their names, but we know what they want and so will members of the next Congress. Outside groups funded attack ads this cycle with millions from wealthy donors and corporations. We may never know their precise identities, but we know who they are—the same corporations and wealthy individuals that have been bankrolling campaigns for years. Big Oil. Wall Street. Insurance giants. And they’ll expect a return on their investment from the 112th Congress.
  • Democratic and Republican candidacies were buoyed by roughly the same amount of money, but it came from different vehicles. Democrats in competitive seats, given the head start in fundraising and their control of power in Washington, D.C., raised much more through candidate committees and their party apparatus. Republicans depended on tens of millions in outside spending by groups that could raise unlimited, relatively unregulated money from secret sources.
  • This is just a warm up act for 2012. The spending in this midterm is projected to be $4 billion – a 40 percent jump from the last midterm in 2006. What is 2012 going to look like? Sen. Mitch McConnell has already said Republicans’ main goal is to make President Obama a one-term president. Democratic funders will respond in kind. We estimate that spending on the 2012 election will exceed $7 billion.

All this big spending means one thing: those that ponied up to candidates, party committees, or secret groups will get an exclusive seat at the table and everyone else will get the scraps. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and bundlers will get all the attention they want on Capitol Hill. It’s everyone else that’ll suffer.


The arms race for campaign cash continues to escalate and it won’t stop until Congress takes bold steps to put elections back in the hands of everyday Americans.  Until voters actually see a change in the way Washington, D.C. works, we’ll continue to see “change” elections.

Here’s what the House and Senate need to do when they return for the lame duck session later this month: 1) Salvage whatever parts of the DISCLOSE Act they can and 2) take up and pass the Fair Elections Now Act, legislation that would restore our government to one that is of, by, and for the people.

The Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates for Congress to run competitive campaigns for office by relying on small donations from people back home. Fair Elections candidates wouldn’t be financed by Wall Street executives or Washington, D.C. lobbyists. They’d be funded by small donations of $100 or less from a candidate’s home state, ensuring our elected officials represent the people and not wealthy donors.

This bipartisan legislation passed the Committee on House Administration in September, and we have the votes to pass it on the House floor.

Today, our elections are more squarely in the hands of the wealthy than they have been since the pre-Watergate days when corporate donors delivered cash in paper bags. Unless Congress acts, the 2012 election will only get worse. The time is right to fix our broken system.

Learn more about Fair Elections at