The midterm elections promise to shake up Washington, but candidates are learning that change doesn’t come cheap.
A bitter free-for-all in the Florida Senate race is indicative of a national trend of big spending in what is expected to be the most expensive midterm election cycle in history.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sunshine State candidates have raised more than $24 million and spent more than $9 million with 14 costly weeks to go before the general election.
The three-way race will feature Gov. Charlie Crist, who bolted the Republican Party after falling behind in the GOP primary and Republican Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker whose Tea Party popularity and backing from former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush caused Crist’s primary problems. There will also be a Democrat in the race, potentially one who could fuel even more wild spending.
Rep. Kendrick Meek, a four-term House member, has been swamped by the campaign cash of self-funded candidate Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate speculator who belatedly jumped into the race. The Democratic battle for the Aug. 24 primary has quickly become a tossup.
Meek has recently fallen behind in fundraising, but a promise of campaign appearances from former President Clinton may help add to his more than $5.7 million war chest.
According to the Miami Herald, Greene has raised less than $4,000 in the second quarter, but spent $5.8 million in the three-month stretch.
Other self-funded candidates, like Connecticut Republican Senate hopeful Linda McMahon are pouring personal fortunes into key races. McMahon has already spent nearly $17 million. California, though, is king when it comes to the self-funders. Former tech CEOs’ Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina have flooded the state with cash. Whitman alone has already spent more than $71 million in her gubernatorial bid.
Florida may not see totals of that size, but with several expensive media markets and a population of 18.5 million, things will get very pricey.
On the Republican side, Rubio has ramped up fundraising. Last year, Crist set a new national second-quarter fundraising record with $4.3 million. This year, it was Rubio’s turn. The conservative favorite raised $4.5 million in April, May and June. Crist still boasts total fundraising of more than $10 million, but saw his quarterly haul — his first since leaving the GOP — plummet to $1.8 million.
The race is just one of many across the country that has become a money machine. So far, midterm campaigns have raised more than $1 billion and are expected to surpass that amount in spending by the time the general election rolls around.
Candidates seeking re-election are driving the surge, spending big in an attempt to defend their seats as anti-incumbent sentiments seem to be sweeping the nation. But many of the year’s biggest spenders aren’t even running for office.
Party leaders, like House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who have contributed large amounts to key races through their own fundraising efforts.
The variable for the 2010 cycle, though, is a Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations, unions and political action groups to spend money to influence elections. Critics of the decision, including President Obama, have warned of a flood of special interest money.
Campaign expenditures across the country are expected surpass the nearly $2.9 billion spent in 2006.