Feature

The skyrocketing cost of winning a seat in Congress

American politics is awash in cash

Successful House candidates spent twice as much in the 2012 elections than they did in 1986, according to updated figures released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute. The increase is particularly striking, says Sarah Wheaton at The New York Times, when you take into account the fact that "most House races are not as competitive as they once were."

How expensive is it to win a seat in Congress? Here is a look at campaign costs, by the numbers:

$753,000Amount spent (in 2012 dollars), on average, in 1986 House elections

$1.6 millionAverage amount winners spent in 2012

$1.3 millionAverage spent by 256 incumbents among 2012 winners who won re-election in safe districts (where they won with 60 percent of the vote or more)

$156,000Amount spent by their long-shot challengers, on average

$2.3 millionAverage spending by 100 swing-state incumbents in 2012 who held onto their seats with less than 60 percent of the vote

$93,000Amount spent by their challengers' campaigns, on average

$3.1 millionAverage spending by the 32 House incumbents who lost their re-election bids in 2012

$2.5 million Average spending by those ousted incumbents' victorious challengers

103 House members from "swing" districts in 1992 (defined as districts where the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result)

35 House members from "swing" districts in 2012 (the most prominent reason for the change is post-Census redistricting, which governing parties have used to draw lines favoring their side)

$6.4 millionAmount spent by the average winning Senate candidate in 1986 (measured in 2012 dollars)

$10.4 millionAmount spent by Senate winners in 2012

$174 millionAdditional spending by Democrat-aligned super PACs in the 2012 general election season. These organizations are providing a growing infusion of outside money into key races, especially in swing states

$295 millionSpending by Republican-aligned super PACs in the 2012 general election season

$6.3 millionSpending by all other super PACs in the same period

$111 millionAdditional spending by Democratic party committees in 2012

$137 millionSpending by Republican party committees

$546.5 millionTotal spending by 266 super PACs in 2012

80Percentage of that money spent to oppose candidates

$290.9 millionAmount spent to oppose President Obama in 2012

$94 millionAmount spent to oppose Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican challenger

Sources: Brookings Institution, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Outside the Beltway, Sunlight Foundation

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