WA Election Breaks Campaign Spending Records

Nov 7, 2012

Some of the results may not be known for weeks, but the most expensive election ever in Washington state wrapped up last night.

Photo of stacks of US $100 dollar bills.
Credit Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

About 56 bucks. Enough for a nice dinner for two maybe? A tank of gas? Or maybe a bagful of groceries? Actually, if you're a registered voter in Washington state, that's how much money has been spent trying to win your vote in this year's election.

Most of that money was spent by candidates and their surrogates trying to win your vote in state and local races. A smaller amount tried to sway your opinion of Congressional and presidential candidates.

The hotly contested governor's race racked up the biggest bill, at more than $40 million.

Fans of initiatives to legalize gay marriage and charter schools also spent more than $10 million each. Much of those campaigns' war chests arrived in chunks of six or seven figures, either from local billionaires or national political outfits.

All told, more than $200 million has flowed into this election in Washington—more than any other in state history. This year's election was also one for the record books at the national level, with more than $6 billion spent nationwide, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

"We saw a lot of evidence of that in our mailboxes and TV commercials," said Lori Anderson with the Public Disclosure Commission.

The PDC tracks the money in state and local politics in Washington. Election season, that means tracking political advertising.

Anderson: "That's what all that money was spent on, and I think we're all glad that's coming to an end."

For the past 20 years, state law has limited direct contributions to candidates. But for ballot measures and for groups spending money independently of a given campaign, the sky's the limit.

Anderson: "When you limit direct contributions, I think you're always going to see a rise in independent spending. Money always finds a way."

Anderson says the full extent of this year's campaign cash may not be known for a couple of months, since campaigns can keep raising money until January.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio