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Common Cause and Ralph Nader may not appreciate the news. But an exhaustive study of candidate spending during the 1990 campaign shows that candidates spent much less on advertising than good-government types would have you believe.

The study, conducted by the Los Angeles Times, found that the average U.S. Senate candidate spent 35 percent of his funds on advertising; his House counterpart spent 25 percent. Even in those Senate races in which the winner drew 55 percent of the vote or less, candidates spent, on average, less than 36 percent on ads. Only two Senate candidates—successful Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and unsuccessful Democratic challenger Harvey Gantt of North Carolina—spent as much as 60 percent of their money on advertising.

How did candidates empty their war chests? They spent a lot of money raising money (24 percent of total Senate campaign costs, 16 percent in the House) and paying campaign staffers (25 percent Senate, 27 percent House).

Some reformers hope to cut the cost of campaigns by forcing broadcasters to give candidates free TV ads. Even if candidates get free time, critics note, they will likely spend the TV money on something else. As Michael J. Conly of Harts-Hanks Communications recently told a Senate Rules Committee panel, "Candidates will continue to raise as much money as they can and spend as much as they need to win."