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House Candidates Outpace Senate Contenders In Money Haul

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington in October 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance.
Susan Walsh
Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington in October 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance.

With 435 seats up for grabs every two years, House candidates typically raise more money overall than those running for the Senate, where only about one-third of the chamber's 100 seats are contested every two years.

But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the fundraising gap is especially wide this year: Data show that House candidates have raised more than twice as much as Senate hopefuls at this point in the election cycle. The last time the discrepancy was this pronounced was in 2008, and before that, in 2002.

So far in the 2013-14 cycle, the 866 candidates for the U.S. House have raised $404 million in individual and political action committee donations. The 145 Senate candidates have raised $204 million.

Why the wider-than-usual disparity? It's still early in the campaign year, so there's no single answer. But there are lots of clues.

Here are a few possible explanations:

  • There were six special elections in 2013 for House seats and two Senate special elections. The House races included a high-profile matchup in South Carolina won by former GOP Gov. Mark Sanford, whose Democratic opponent was Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the sister of popular comedian Stephen Colbert. In the Senate, Democrat Cory Booker cruised to victory in New Jersey, and Democrat Ed Markey won in Massachusetts.
  • So far, the election cycle hasn't seen huge-money, self-funded Senate candidates — like Connecticut Republican Linda McMahon, who spent about $100 million of her own money for losing Senate efforts in 2010 and 2012. Republicans David Perdue in Georgia and Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, for example, have each put about $1.6 million of their own money into their current Senate campaigns. But those numbers pale in comparison to the McMahon-level self-financing.
  • The Senate race map may also be playing a role. In 2010, more than $50 million was raised in three separate Senate races alone — California among them. But this time around, in the four most populous states — New York, California, Texas, and Florida (all home to lots of expensive media markets) — only one of the eight Senate seats is being contested: Republican John Cornyn is running for re-election in Texas.
  • Sarah Bryner, CRP's research director, notes that while House fundraising is far outpacing that for the Senate, the overall money flowing to individual campaigns continues to shrink as a result of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United campaign finance decision.

    That ruling prohibited restrictions on political spending by corporations, associations and labor unions.

    "There's now three times as much in independent expenditures than there were at this point in 2010," Bryner says. "Since Citizens United, a lot of money that would have previously gone to the party and to candidates is going to outside spending groups."

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.