Do politicians win elections because of their ideas? Their character? The passion of their supporters? Or do they win because of the size of their campaign war chests — filled with millions of dollars by powerful elites? In America, money is not supposed to choose who governs, the people are. But elections now cost billions of dollars, and we have to start wondering if money has more power than the American people.
We analyzed every Congressional election of 2014, using data from the FEC. We asked who won, who lost, and who spent more money doing it. Frankly, the results are painful (click to zoom):
Here are the biggest take-aways from the analysis:
- In 91% of races, the big-spender won the election (these appear as yellow circles around purple ones).
- The exceptions to this rule, when the winner wasn’t the big spender, are mostly expensive Senate races — where both candidates had millions to burn through.
- The less costly races (often for House seats) are dominated by the winners: they have three times more money then their closest rivals, and often run unopposed.
- Just 11% of the money comes from small donors, who gives less than $200. Big donors, PACs, and parties made up the other 89% of funding.
Sadly, these results aren’t a fluke. We did a similar analysis of the 2012 elections, and we found exactly the same thing.
When elections are decided by money, as 91% are, it means that donors to political campaigns have the power voters ought to. Donors decide who can launch a campaign and who can’t. They decide who gets traction and who doesn’t. In the end, they decide who wins and who loses.