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Study: 2012 House Campaign Spending Trends

This study, released by the Brennan Center for Justice, analyzes the spending patterns emerging in the 25 most hotly contested House races, which will likely determine which party will control the House.

October 22, 2012

Contact: Seth Hoy at, 646–292–8369, or Erik Opsal at, 646–292–8356.

New York – A new report released today by the Brennan Center for Justice analyzes the spending patterns emerging in the 25 most hotly contested House races, which will likely determine which party will control the House.

Using the most recent Federal Election Commission campaign finance filings and data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the report examines the role of spending by independent groups, political parties, and candidates in the 25 toss-up House races identified by the Cook Political Report one month before Election Day.

Key findings from these races:

  • Outside group spending is on par with political party spending in competitive House races. Through the end of September, the Republican and Democratic congressional campaign committees together spent $24.9 million, while outside groups combined for $24.8 million. This parity highlights the importance of outside groups in shaping the electoral landscape in 2012.
  • Candidate spending accounts for less than half of total spending in nearly half of most competitive House races. In 11 of the 25 toss-up House races, candidates accounted for less than 50 percent of the total money spent in the district through the end of September. Republicans have relied more on non-candidate spending (which includes party committees and independent groups) than their Democratic counterparts. Excluding the 18th district in Florida, an outlier in the data, three-fifths of Democratic spending comes from candidates, as compared to barely one-half of Republican spending.
  • Democratic and Republican outside groups have maintained relative parity in competitive House races through the first two weeks of October. Excluding the two party committees, Democratic-leaning Super PACs and other outside groups spent slightly more than their Republican counterparts in the 25 toss-up House districts ($8.6 million to $8.1 million). This suggests that unlike the 2010 election, there has yet to be a significant October Republican surge in outside spending in the most competitive House races.

The report also examines the role of small donors, finding that, excluding Florida’s 18th district where Republican freshman Allen West raised over $7 million from small donors through the end of September, Democratic candidates were more reliant on small donors for their fundraising than their Republican counterparts. Republican candidates in the other two dozen toss-up House races raised 7.6 percent of their money from small donations, as compared to 12.4 percent for Democratic candidates.

“This data clearly shows that Super PAC and outside spending are playing a large role in shaping the 2012 electoral landscape,” said Sundeep Iyer, Principal Quantitative Analyst at the Brennan Center. “In these crucial toss-up districts, average voters of modest means are on the sideline. We need to adopt policies that put small donors back at the center of our elections, such as the Brennan Center’s small donor empowerment program.”

Iyer and Adam Skaggs, Senior Counsel and head of the Brennan Center’s money in politics work, are available for expert commentary.