How much does money matter in politics? Candidates who out-fundraised their opponents were nine times more likely to win elections in 2012. This graph shows each one of those Congressional races [Click to Zoom In]:
Out of 467 races, fundraising success almost always leads to victory. In fact, winners outspent their opponents by about 20 to 1.
Perhaps this is why members of Congress continue to win re-election despite Congress’ dismal 10% approval rating. Incumbents have a huge advantage in fundraising, and on average raise more than double what their challengers do. That translates into a 90% re-election rate.
What does all this mean? Because our elections are decided by money, whoever supplies that money wields incredible political influence. Large donors and PACs account for two-thirds of it. Even “small donors” make up a tiny minority of Americans (they can give up to $200 and still be considered “small”). For a candidate to get into office, he or she must first please these elite donors – and keep pleasing them all throughout the election. When politicians are beholden to big donors, they lose their loyalty to the voters. And that’s not how democracy is supposed to work.
You can explore more data behind how money influences American elections at OpenSecrets and Maplight, both of which are non-partisan research organizations. The data for this this graphic comes courtesy of the Federal Elections Commission.