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Voters watched record-breaking amounts of advertising over the last two years as politicians sought to win control of Congress and state capitols.
The parties spent $8.7 billion on ads this election cycle, as federal, state and local candidates flooded the airwaves and internet for months with their campaign pitches, according to media tracking firm AdImpact. (That’s reportedly more than enough to buy the Washington Commanders.)
Democrats shelled out $3.8 billion for TV, radio, and digital advertising, while Republicans’ paid media totaled $3.5 billion.
Donors provided records amounts to campaigns and outside groups as they sought to influence control of a narrowly divided Congress and the outcome of thousands of state races
“When control of one of the central branches of government is literally on the line based on how five or six-thousand people may vote, then it does justify hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures,” said Fernand Amandi, managing partner of research and strategic communications consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi.
The number of Senate campaign ads on TV grew 19% in this election cycle over the 2018 midterms, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which has tracked political advertising for over a decade. House ad volume also was up 4.5% from those elections.
Congressional ad volume was down from 2020 when there was competition for time with the presidential race on the ballot.
The bulk of the money raised by campaigns, parties, and outside groups went for ad costs in key races. Media leads all categories of spending disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, according to the independent nonprofit OpenSecrets.
Eight Senate races seen as key to determining control had more than $100 million campaign spending by candidates and outside groups reported by the end of October, according to OpenSecrets.
AdImpact identified nine House races pivotal to control with $30 million apiece in advertising. Topping the list was the rematch in Maine between Rep.Jared Golden (D) and former Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R).
Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) all won new terms in districts where constituents were awash in spots.
Rounding out the top five was Rep. David Valadao’s (R-Calif.) , who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. He was targeted by Republicans and Democrats in the Central Valley contest.
Signs of Cooling Off
Though 2022 spending set records, there are signs of cooling off after blistering increases in the previous two cycles.
Federal candidates and political committees were on track to spend in total about $8.9 billion, according to an analysis by OpenSecrets. That’s 25% more than the inflation-adjusted $7.1 billion total for the 2018 midterms.
Sarah Bryner, the group’s director of research, said money poured into competitive Republican Senate primaries, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, contributed to record spending early in the 2022 election cycle, though the trend flattened somewhat closer to Election Day.
“This could be caused by anything from donor fatigue to financial pressures caused by inflation,” she said in releasing the estimated spending total, based on FEC data. “We have yet to see whether this is an anomaly or the beginning of the tapering off of the wild fundraising we’ve seen in the last four years.”
Political action committees, including super PACs fueled by unlimited donations, were the biggest spenders in the 2022 election, according to FEC data. But candidate spending also increased, largely fueled by donors giving limited amounts online and self-funding wealthy candidates.
Concerns about abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade helped drive online fundraising for Democrats, according to ActBlue, the leading internet platform for the party’s candidates. Two of ActBlue’s biggest fundraising days came in September after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation (S. 4840) calling for a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks of gestation.
The total amount raised by ActBlue this cycle through September — nearly $2.8 billion — was more than double the comparable number for the 2018 midterms, when Democrats saw major gains in Congress.
While paid media is usually campaigns’ biggest expense, some political operations opted for cheaper methods. Americans for Prosperity Action, the libertarian political advocacy group linked to billionaire megadonor Charles Koch, estimates its members knocked on more than 6 million doors and delivered more than 100 million pieces of mail to back their preferred candidates.
“Our mail, our digital and our phones are resulting in record-breaking engagement at a lower cost,” AFP CEO Emily Seidel told reporters. “And so our dollars are going farther today than they ever have before.”
With assistance from Seemeen Hashem