November 22

By Julia Haines

Television ads, yard signs, billboards and mailboxes filled with fliers inform voters of who’s on the ballot and what they stand for. But they’re not cheap. This midterm election cycle, voter participation and turnout were high – and, as one might suspect, so was the price tag of running a campaign.

Now it seems to matter less and less where – at least geographically – that money comes from.

By the end of October, the last federal deadline for campaigns to report their fundraising and spending before Election Day, $7.4 billion had been spent among candidates, party committees and political action committees. But with big spending pushes right up to Election Day, that total could climb as high as $9.3 billion or more. The total amount of money spent by candidates alone was over $3 billion, a 12% increase compared to 2018’s midterms, covering expenses like advertisements, rallies, travel and other campaign costs.

A significant portion of candidate funding – about $2.6 billion – was solicited from individual donors. Total contributions from individual donors made up about 70% of all the money taken in by congressional candidates this cycle. Donations from individuals come in different sizes up to $2,900 per candidate per race.

Campaigns often value small donors – those who give $10, $50 or $100 – because they frequently indicate the extent of grassroots support for a candidate. Individual donors – despite the amount – are more likely to vote and are also more likely to be actively involved, giving time and energy alongside their money. In Georgia’s high-profile Senate race, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock raised a whopping $123 million, about two-thirds of which was sourced from individual contributions of $200 or less.

But once individual contributions exceed $200, the donations are itemized, disclosing the contributor’s address among other details. And from those, analysts can determine the flow of cash to campaigns. Interestingly, donors to congressional campaigns do not have to be residents of the state in which their favored candidate is running. And with heightened political polarization and both sides vying for the grand prize – control of the House and Senate – donors are increasingly sending money outside of their states and districts to competitive races where control of Congress is at stake. In fact, during the 2022 midterms, the majority of those itemized donations were sent across state lines.

Of all the money donated by individuals who disclosed their state alongside an itemized donation, 46% was given by contributors to candidates in their own state, while 54% went to candidates outside of their state.

Senate candidates – especially those that were in position to tip the balance of the 50-50 chamber – were the most likely to benefit from itemized out-of-state contributions. Some 35% of itemized donations of $200 or more to Senate candidates came from individuals in the candidate’s state, compared to 55% to House candidates. States with high-profile Senate races included Nevada, New Hampshire and Georgia – all three of which had candidates receiving over 70% of their itemized individual donations from out-of-state contributors. Idaho was the most awash in external funding at nearly 80%, while Tennessee was the most self-subsistent at 23%.

Georgia, with its high-profile race between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, received the most money – nearly $90 million – in itemized donations from out-of-state individuals this cycle. Much of that came from big states, with $21.4 million from Florida, New York and Texas combined, and $17.4 million from California alone. Those four states were the most lavish overall, sending roughly $400 million across state lines, each giving a higher share to candidates out of state than in state.

Excluding the District of Columbia, Massachusetts residents gave the smallest percentage to their own candidates, with only 10% of the more than $53 million donated by Massachusetts individuals going to Massachusetts candidates. It’s worth noting that no Senate seats were up for election in Massachusetts this cycle. Similarly, only 19% of Idaho’s donations remained in state. Meanwhile, Iowa and Alaska contributors kept the highest share of donations close to home, at 83% and 81% respectively.

Along party lines, Democratic candidates were more likely to receive an itemized contribution from an out-of-state individual. This cycle, Democratic candidates received over $900 million from itemized individual contributors, 43% of that coming from in-state contributors. Conversely, Republican candidates received nearly $800 million from itemized individual contributors, 50% of that coming from in-state donors.

As some advocate for spending limits because of the effect high contributions may have on the outcome of an election, the phenomenon is only expected to broaden. Campaign spending is projected to continue to grow moving into the 2024 election cycle, as an angry and almost equally divided electorate turns state and local races into national campaigns.