What’s the cover charge to Congress?

Tracking outside spending in U.S. Senate races

Coming into the 2012 elections, pundits on both sides of the aisle decried what massive political spending would mean for our democracy. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010) opened the floodgates for unprecedented contributions to opaque partisan organizations known as Political Action Committees (Super PACs).

On the presidential level, Republican Super PACs outspent their Democratic counterparts by more than 2:1, yet President Obama was reelected. After the election, many analysts claimed the results showed a significant separation of political buying power and voting.

Using campaign-spending data from Open Secrets, we unpacked Super PAC spending in each Senate race for 2012. The results show that while outside spending can have an influence on an election, spending a fortune on a senate race does not guarantee that the candidate you back will end up on Capitol Hill.