What Republican Spending Advantage?


New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that money is overrated as a means of winning elections. Citing several examples of big-spending candidates who went down in flames, along with the inconclusive findings of research on the subject, Brooks says spending is "almost never the difference between victory and defeat" and functions mostly as a "talisman." Even if you think money is more important than Brooks makes it out to be, the numbers he cites for this year's elections are a striking rebuttal to Democrats who are pre-emptively blaming their expected losses next month on a Republican advantage in independent spending:

The vast majority of campaign spending is done by candidates and political parties. Over the past year, the Democrats, most of whom are incumbents, have been raising and spending far more than the Republicans.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats in the most competitive House races have raised an average of 47 percent more than Republicans. They have spent 66 percent more, and have about 53 percent more in their war chests. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 7, Democrats running for the House and the Senate spent $1.50 on advertising for every $1 spent by Republicans….

It is true that Republicans have an edge when it comes to outside expenditures. This year, for example, the United States Chamber of Commerce is spending $22 million for Republicans, while the Service Employees International Union is spending about $14 million for Democrats.

But independent spending is about only a tenth of spending by candidates and parties. Democrats have a healthy fear of Karl Rove, born out of experience, but there is no way the $13 million he influences through the group American Crossroads is going to reshape an election in which the two parties are spending something like $1.4 billion collectively.