Two months ago, The New York Times reported that "Democratic officials" believed "corporate interests, newly emboldened by regulatory changes," were trying to "buy the election." But it turned out the election was not for sale -- at least, not to the highest bidder.
According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats and Republicans each shelled out $1.6 billion during this election cycle, including spending by candidates, parties, party committees and independent groups. In terms of spending, the two parties were evenly matched. But that is not how it looked on election night.
A closer look provides further evidence that Republicans did not win by outspending their opponents. They got substantially more votes in House races, where they spent less than Democrats yet picked up more than 60 seats (and control of the chamber), than they did in Senate races, where they spent more than Democrats and added half a dozen seats.
The squandered money included $46 million that Linda McMahon, the Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, spent out of her personal funds, which amounted to nearly $100 for each vote she received. She lost by 12 points. Less dramatically, John Raese, the Republican running for a Senate seat in West Virginia, spent $4.6 million of his own money ($20 per vote) and lost by 10 points.
But this year's poster child for the lesson that money can't buy you love is former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who blew $140 million of her own money ($45 per vote) in her race for California governor against Democrat Jerry Brown, who won by 12 points. Also in California, a marijuana legalization initiative got more votes than Whitman but still lost by eight points, even though its supporters outspent its opponents by 10 to one.
At the other end of the spending spectrum, Slate's Dave Weigel identified five House races in which extremely thrifty Republicans beat well-funded incumbents after raising far less than the $1 million that is commonly accepted as the threshold for a serious congressional campaign. Four of those Republicans also benefited from significant independent spending, ranging from about $200,000 to almost $1 million.