A year ago, we wrote about a fantastic episode of the radio program This American Life
, which was all about lobbying
. One part of it revealed just how much time our elected officials in Congress spend fundraising, and the numbers were somewhat astounding. Both major political parties have set up phone banks across the street from the Capitol (because it's seen as demeaning to do the calls directly from your Congressional office) and members of the House and the Senate spend a ridiculous amount of time there. The report suggested multiple hours each day
on average, just focused on raising money for their re-election campaign. It's really quite incredible.
The folks over at MapLight recently used Federal Elections Commission data on the 2012 elections to work out just how much it costs to win a seat in Congress
- House members, on average, each raised $1,689,580, an average of $2,315 every day during the 2012 cycle.
- Senators, on average, each raised $10,476,451, an average of $14,351 every day during the 2012 cycle.
No wonder they're hitting the phones every day. Of course, since these are averages, and averages can be skewed, it might help to dig in a bit, and thankfully, MapLight has supplied all the data in a handy dandy spreadsheet.
Digging a bit deeper, we see that the campaign that got the highest amount of money is (no surprise) Elizabeth Warren's Senate campaign, which raised $42,506,349. That's a real outlier, as the second highest amount was less than half of that
(Sherrod Brown, who raised $20,945,196). The lowest amount for a Senate campaign? Angus King, the Independent from Maine who raised just $2,964,323 -- though he's beloved in Maine and most people thought he had the campaign locked up from the beginning (which is a good thing, since we need more non-partisans in Congress, and King seems to be quite good). There were a few other campaigns around $3 million as well. At the very least, the data suggests that $3 million is the basic entry fee. The median for Senate campaigns pops out at $9,341,391 -- not far off from the mean. That median campaign was Dean Hellers.
On the House side, there were a few clear outliers, topped by Michele Bachmann's $25,894,721 -- though I assume much of that was raised back when she was running for President -- so not particularly representative. The other outlier on the high end: Speaker of the House John Boehner's $22,024,288. No one else came even remotely close. Third place was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who took in $7,640,467. Note that Bachmann and Boehner actually raised more than any victorious Senate campaign, other than Warren's. The lowest amount raised? That would be Eni Faleomavaega (who?) who raised just $110,570. Of course, he's a non-voting "delegate" to the House, representing American Samoa's at-large district. Similarly, another non-voting delegate, Gregorio Sablan (from the Northern Mariana Islands) raised just $111,145. The lowest amount raised by a winning voting House member would be the $212,068 raised by Jose Serrano. The median amount in the House (including the non-voting members...) is $1,350,902 (for Rep. Janice Schakowsky). That's just a bit lower than the mean, which is probably the impact of the two massive outliers on the high end.
Of course, this data only looks at the winners, not the losers, and you could make a case that that data is pretty relevant as well. Still, the data makes it clear that successfully running for office requires a lot
of money, which is why our politicians spend so much time fundraising. If all that fundraising kept them away from making bad laws, perhaps it would be a good thing, but, of course, part of the problem is that implicit in at least some of the fundraising effort is that these politicians will scratch the back of the donors -- which is how we end up in a world where so many politicians seem to focus on crony capitalism and rewarding those who fund their campaign, over what may be best for their actual constituents.