The 2022 federal election cost more than $8.9 billion, blowing past the inflation-adjusted $7.1 billion spent on the 2018 midterm elections, a new OpenSecrets analysis of year-end disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission found.
For all the billions of dollars spent, Democrats picked up one U.S. Senate seat, clinging to the party’s narrow majority in the chamber — until Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced she would switch from Democrat to independent in December, effectively shrinking the Democrat’s legislative breathing room. Republicans narrowly regained a 5-member majority in the U.S. House, which has already posed a political headache for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“The ever-escalating spending race between political parties means the price of admission to Congress keeps climbing,” said OpenSecrets Executive Director Sheila Krumholz. “But all of that money had hardly left American voters more or better informed.
“This midterm spending spree was preceded by years of lax campaign finance regulations and oversight following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, and I anticipate more federal election spending records will be smashed in 2024,” Krumholz said.
Federal candidates, party committees, PACs and outside groups all skyrocketed past their 2018 midterm election spending as elections continue to grow more expensive and contentious. Overall, Republicans outspent Democrats $4.2 billion to $4 billion during the 2022 election cycle.
Spending by the Republican National Committee and outside groups supporting GOP candidates drove that total spending advantage. But Democratic candidates and senatorial and congressional party committees outspent their Republican counterparts overall.
Democratic and Republican congressional candidates, leadership PACs, joint fundraising committees and party committees spent their money differently during the course of the 2022 election. Republican congressional candidates and federal committees focused on fundraising, particularly fundraising consultants, while Democrats poured more money into staff salaries and media, an OpenSecrets analysis of federal campaign finance data reported through Nov. 28, 2022, found.
The average cost to run for a U.S. Senate seat became more expensive during the 2022 cycle. In 2018, the average general election Senate candidate raised $10.8 million, adjusted for inflation. During the 2022 cycle, that average jumped to $13.5 million.
While the cost of Senate races rose compared to the last midterm election cycle, the average cost of congressional elections got slightly cheaper. General election candidates for the U.S. House reported raising an average of $1.8 million during the 2022 election cycle, slightly less than the inflation-adjusted $1.9 million raised by the average general election congressional candidate during the 2018 election cycle.
Four of the six most expensive congressional races of the 2022 election cycle were U.S. Senate races rated toss ups by the Cook Political Report – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. The Senate race in Wisconsin, the fourth most expensive, shifted from toss up to leans Republican four days before the Nov. 8 election. These five races also attracted the most outside spending during the general election, as outside groups sought to sway voters for or against their preferred candidates in battleground states.
Massive outside spending in the Senate GOP primary in Ohio helped propel newly-elected Sen. J.D. Vance to the nomination. Outside groups poured more money in the Ohio Senate GOP primary than any other primary during the 2022 election, plus an additional $56 million into the general election race between Vance and the Democratic nominee, former Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
Over 94% of winning U.S. House candidates spent more money than their opponent during the 2022 election, as did 88% of winning U.S. Senate candidates. That said, 347 of the 435 House seats were not remotely competitive during the 2022 election cycle, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report, and only nine of the 34 Senate seats up for election were competitive.
Incumbents enjoyed a fundraising advantage, and all 28 incumbent senators who ran for reelection during the 2022 election cycle won, as did 93.5% of incumbent representatives.
Self-funding candidates were some of the biggest losers this election cycle, with only two of the top 10 self-funders winning this election cycle. Notably, both winners were congressional candidates, while the eight losers were running for the Senate. Freshman Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) loaned his campaign $6.2 million, more than 98% of the total his campaign reported raising in the 2022 election cycle. Newly-elected Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) loaned his campaign $12.6 million, more than 95% of his total.
Small-dollar contributions exploded during the 2022 election cycle, with 18% of all funds coming from donors giving $200 or less. Over $978.6 million of that small individual donor cash went to Democratic candidates, political committees and aligned outside groups, 19% of all funds raised by them. Republicans raised $710.4 million from small donors, accounting for 16% of all funds raised.
A record 124 women were elected to the U.S. House during the 2022 election cycle. Twenty-two were newly elected to federal office, and women make up 29% of the freshman class. But contributions from women donors dropped from a historic surge in 2020. Women made up 29% of all campaign contributions of more than $200 during the 2022 election cycle, down from 35% in 2020 but on par with levels seen during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.
The top 10 donors of the 2022 election cycle were all men or, as is the case with Elizabeth Uihlein and Janine Yass, part of a megadonor power couple. Women account for just 18% of all contributions over $1 million.
The top individual donors helped fuel unprecedented outside spending during the 2022 election. Total federal spending by outside groups approached $2.3 billion, exceeding even the record-smashing $2.2 billion spent on congressional races during the 2020 election. The overwhelming majority of that was negative.
The top four outside spending groups — excluding party committees — last cycle were aligned with Republican and Democratic parties’ congressional leadership. The Senate Leadership Fund, aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spent $246 million during the 2022 election cycle, more than twice the inflation-adjusted $112.3 million spent during the 2018 election cycle. The Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), spent $222.9 million, up from $131.8 million during the 2018 cycle, adjusted for inflation.
No outside group spent more than $200 million in a single cycle prior to the 2020 election cycle.
“Dark money” groups aligned with the same outside groups steered more than $295 million from secret donors into 2022 federal elections through Nov. 4, OpenSecrets previously reported. Politically active nonprofits have spent billions of dollars to influence federal elections since Citizens United as elections grow more expensive and less transparent.
Senior Researcher Doug Weber contributed to this report.
Federal cost of elections includes spending by congressional candidates, national parties, 527 committees and outside money groups, in addition to overhead expenditures by PACs and joint fundraising committees, for the 2022 election cycle as of year-end reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 31, 2023.