Political campaign spending, you might say, is trending through the roof, and not just on the federal level. State politicians and political issue committees are raising historic sums, according to a study released today by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. And the spending works. Incumbent lawmakers raise more money than their opponents and they win 95 percent of the time. In 2004, Colorado politicians and committees spent $20 million winning and losing votes. In 2008, they spent $85 million.
At that rate– quadrupling every four years– $340 million will be spent on state races and issues in 2012, a conservative estimate perhaps given that it doesn’t take into account the changes that will flow from the recent Supreme Court Citizens United ruling lifting limits on corporate spending.
The largest donor-industries in the state were public sector unions and oil and gas companies. The unions spent $13.2 million on campaign politics. Oil and gas companies spent $12.7 million.
The biggest change from 2004 to 2008 came in spending on ballot initiative campaigns. Committees spent $12.2 million to sell their initiatives to the public in 2004; they spent $73 million in 2008.
All the spending means it’s good to be an office holder. As the report puts it, “legislative incumbents have become nearly unbeatable.” Part of that certainly is tied to the fact that candidates get the lion’s share of their cash from state Democratic and Republican parties.
Nationwide, political parties gave 1.6 times as much as the nearest contributor sector in 2008. The parties doled out $240 million, whereas finance, real estate and insurance businesses gave roughly $150 million.
In Colorado, though, unions, representing tens of thousands of workers, outspent everyone— not just public sector unions but labor unions, trade unions, transportation unions and so on, to the tune of $26.7 million. What the Institute calls “ideological or single issue” groups ranked second in spending at $14.2 million followed by energy and natural resource companies, which spent $13.1 million.