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BALTIMORE—Fundraising and campaign spending are proving once again to be incredibly accurate predictors of who wins elections according to an analysis of recent Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data for the 2006 congressional primaries released today by U.S. PIRG.
Despite numerous public opinion polls indicating record levels of public frustration with the current Congress and the best opportunities for challengers in more than a decade, 76% of the primary elections were uncontested. Report authors argue that the common thread linking the campaigns is the amount of money the winners raised and spent on their campaigns compared with funds raised and spent by their opponents.
“This study indicates that going into the final stretch, look to the candidate with more campaign funds to win the election,” said Maryland PIRG’s Policy Advocate Johanna Neumann.
The report released today, The Wealth Primary, showed that the biggest fundraisers won 92% of the 2006 major party primaries. Furthermore, party nomination campaigns were primarily funded by large contributions from less than one tenth of one percent of the electorate.
U.S. PIRG maintains that the current campaign finance system forces candidates to compete for dollars in a “wealth primary.” Those who are unable to raise large sums from wealthy contributors are filtered out of the process, either by losing their primaries or deciding not to run in the first place.
“This report confirms what every prospective candidate knows—the first questions to ask are about money. Am I rich? Do I know rich people who will give me money? If not, my chances of reaching Congress are slim and maybe I’d better pursue another line of work,” Neumann added.
The dominance of big money also appears to have hindered electoral competition. With three-quarters of the races uncontested, the report suggests that the lack of competition can be traced in part to large financial advantages of incumbents or “first-movers” (often party favorites). Incumbent candidates began the 2006 election cycle with more than $188 million in cash on hand.
“Incumbents fare very well in the wealth primary system,” Neumann noted. “Large contributions from PACs, lobbyists, and other special interests are a principal advantage of incumbency. Officeholders routinely build huge war chests that scare off credible challengers before the first vote is cast.”
Among the report’s additional key findings:
- Major party congressional candidates who spent the most money won 91% of their primary races in 2006, according to FEC data. Winning candidates out-raised their opponents by a margin of 3.5 to-1, with the winners raising an average of $1.06 million and losers raising $304,000.
- While only 0.03% of voting age Americans made a contribution to a candidate of $2,000 or more, these large donations accounted for more than 29% of individual contributions received by primary candidates. Contributions of $200 and above, made by 0.27% of Americans, accounted for 82% of all individual contributions.
- Overall, incumbents began the 2006 election cycle with an average of more than $432,000 of cash on hand; incumbent Senators began their reelection campaigns with an average of $1.43 dollars already on hand.
Maryland PIRG called for Congress and state legislatures to provide candidates who agree to spending limits and refuse special interest and other private contributions with public financing. As a signal to voters of their commitment to changing the system, Maryland PIRG also urged all current congressional candidates to sign the Voters First Pledge.
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