To illustrate the large difference in the amount of money needed to win a US Senate seat (quite a lot) and the amount needed to win a state Senate seat (much, much less), a recent Mother Jones article used some calculations that I thought were somewhat lacking – so I decided to make improvements.
To skip straight to the findings, click here.
I don’t disagree with the main thrust of the Mother Jones article, which is that super-PACs are setting their sights on state capitals, not just federal races, and certainly not just the 2012 presidential race. This is alarming because a little money goes a long way in state capitals.
I would add that few of us know who our state-level representatives are. If we don’t even know who represents us in our state capitals, then we are clearly not doing a good job at holding them accountable. If politicians are able to operate in secret and a little money goes a long way with them, then the conditions are such that corporate interests and super-PACs are able to dominate at the expense of everyday people.
Here’s what I thought needed improvement:
How much further does $10,000 or $100,000 go at the state level? According to a Pew Center on the States analysis, in the mid-2000s the average cost of a winning state Senate campaign was anywhere from $5,713 (North Dakota) to $938,522 (California). In Arizona it was $36,696; in Wisconsin, $140,287; in North Carolina, $234,031. By contrast, the average cost of a US Senate seat in 2010 was $9.2 million.
I am dissatisfied with the above because what I want (and think others would too) is to be able to compare a representative of a particular state with a different representative of that same state. The essential difference between the two representatives would be at what level of government they serve. So for example, the cost of winning a state Senate campaign in North Dakota compared to the cost of winning a US Senate seat to represent North Dakota.
Center for Responsive Politics collects and makes a lot of very useful federal data related to money in politics available. The amount of money raised to win Congressional races is presented by state for several election cycles. Here is Alabama and the 2010 election cycle. As you can see, Senator Richard C. Shelby raised $8.5 million during the 2010 election cycle.
National Institute On Money In State Politics has state-level campaign finance data (and more!) for all 50 states. I find it incredible that they are able to track down this data for all 50 states, standardize it, and make it available. Here is a list of Alabama’s state Senate candidates for 2010 with the winners sorted first. As you can see, State Senator Gerald Allen raised $434,000 during the 2010 election cycle.
The idea behind the creation of this table is to be able to compare the cost of winning a US Senate seat in 2010 versus the cost of winning one in each state capital.
We can now paraphrase or update the original from Mother Jones to:
How much further does $10,000 or $100,000 go at the state level? On average, over 50 times further if we look at data from Center for Responsive Politics and National Institute On Money In State Politics. In 2010 the average campaign for state Senate raised anywhere from $7,143 (North Dakota) to $850,868 (California). By contrast, the average of US Senate campaign in 2010 raised anywhere from $1,710,429 (Utah) to $29,331,343 (California). On average, a single campaign for US Senate could fund 56 state senate campaigns.
What do you think? Well done? Poorly done? Are there nuances that I am missing? Share your thoughts and get on my good side!