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2012 election ranks as most expensive in American history

Thursday, November 8, 2012 | 7:09 p.m. CST; updated 9:31 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 8, 2012
As election season draws to a close, $6 billion has been spent on campaigns across the U.S. Below are comparisons of election funds between Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Todd Akin.

COLUMBIA — This election season ranks as the most expensive in the country's history.

According to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, $6 billion went into election spending this year. Some MU professors say that isn't as big of a number as it might seem, despite the fact that campaign spending has generated a lot of conversation following the election.

Although $6 billion is the most Americans have ever invested in elections, MU political science professor Marvin Overby said it's important to consider inflation and the costs that go into a political campaign. 

"It takes billions and billions of dollars to fund campaigns," Overby said. "We spend billions of dollars on iPads, hamburgers and cars in this country."

In fact, just last week Americans celebrated Halloween at a cost of roughly $8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Former chairman of the Federal Election Commission Michael Toner said in a BBC article Aug. 1 that election spending — particularly citizen contribution — is a good thing because it allows voters to be more engaged in politics.

Overby said he agrees.

"Giving contributions is just another way for voters to participate in government beyond the voters booth," he said.

Social media reactions about spending

Following the election, however, some people expressed disappointment in the amount America's elected officials spent to campaign on Twitter.

Lara Hilliard, a Columbia resident, tweeted, "Regardless of my thoughts on the outcome, I am sickened by #campaignspending on BOTH sides. Estimates are saying well over $4B! @BarackObama."

"And for what? Control of the House, Senate, and Presidency didn't change hands. #campaignspending @BarackObama," she wrote in a second tweet.

Baltimore resident C. Alexander Sattler tweeted, "Shame on #US #America - #ElectionSpending could have put a nice chunk in our #NationalDebt @ least we are so happy to have voted! #fail."

Kelly DeAngelis, a 2012 Boston University Pardee Graduate Summer Fellow, tweeted, "#Americans should reassess the amount of money that goes to #campaignspending... let's use ALL of our resources wisely."

Campaign costs in Missouri

In Missouri, the leading spender for campaign expenses this year was Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in her winning campaign against Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. This year, she spent $17,766,434, compared with Akin's $4,649,277, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In just television advertisements, McCaskill spent more than $900,000, nearly $630,000 more than Todd Akin's television advertisement costs, according to data aggregated from Project Open Vault as of Oct. 30.

Other winning candidates, such as Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, also out-spent their opponents, which raises the question: Does more spending mean more votes?

Jeff Milyo, an MU economics professor, said, in general, there is a positive correlation between spending and winning. However, he said, in general, spending is a reflection of a candidate's popularity.

"Do you know anybody who would change their mind about Todd Akin if they saw a commercial?" Milyo said. "Probably not."

"People obviously spend their money on what they want," Milyo said. "But there's no scientific evidence that there is somehow too much money being spent."

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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