By: Jessica Mendoza
Two weeks before voters head to the polls, the 2018 campaign season continues to shatter records. Candidates are set to break the $5 billion mark by Election Day, putting this cycle on track to becoming the most expensive congressional election season in US history.
The fundraising figures, which favor Democratic candidates, support one prevailing narrative of 2018: that political winds, fanned by anti-Trump fervor, are sweeping Democrats forward in races across the board. From Texas to New York, progressive challengers are outraising established incumbents and upending conventional wisdom about money in major elections.
For opponents of big money in politics, this feels like the rumblings of revolution. If Rep. Beto O’Rourke – the Democratic nominee running an unlikely campaign against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas – can raise $38 million in three months without the help of a super PAC, then the possibilities are endless. Suddenly anyone with charisma and an internet connection can run a viable campaign.
Advocates of campaign finance reform have been thrilled. They see this election as a chance to prove that candidates can run and win without the influence of “dark money” – funds donated to groups that can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without disclosing where the money came from. That could, in turn, shift the balance of power in Congress from big corporate donors to actual voters, they say.
“There’s a huge difference between tens of thousands of people giving $15 and 1,500 people giving $10,000,” says Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, a political action committee working to reverse the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for unlimited political spending by corporations and unions. “That changes who you’re accountable to as a member of Congress. It changes which voters you are fighting for.”
Over the past decade – and especially since the Citizens United ruling – the Democratic Party has flagged in donations for candidates who aren’t running for president. Strategists say one-click contributions could grease the gears for potential donors who before might have hesitated to use cash to engage in politics.
“If you make it easy for a person to get involved, they will,” says Taryn Rosenkranz, founder and chief executive of New Blue Interactive, a Democratic digital strategies firm. “At any moment, when I feel emotionally invested – boom, I can do something about it. I can purchase that hat or yard sign,” or send $20 to a candidate halfway across the country.