Political spending in the 2020 election totaled $14.4 billion, more than doubling the total cost of the record-breaking 2016 presidential election cycle, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.
An independent government watchdog, OpenSecrets previously estimated that the 2020 election would cost around $14 billion, an extraordinary spending figure that would still have made it the most expensive election of all time by a large margin.
The pricey presidential showdown between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was funded by an unprecedented number of small donors giving online and billionaires who wielded tremendous political influence over the last decade. Donors also fueled record spending in congressional races, capping off the 2020 election with the all-time most expensive Georgia Senate runoffs.
Total federal spending in the 2020 election reached $14.4 billion, establishing itself as the most expensive election in U.S. history by a large margin.
The hotly contested presidential election — both sides called it the most important race in history — was the catalyst for an influx of donations. Biden’s campaign became the first to raise over $1 billion from donors. Biden’s cash advantage over Trump helped him pepper swing states with far more campaign ads. Biden also received more help from super PACs and “dark money” groups.
Trump’s campaign raised $774 million. Trump raised over half of his money from small donors giving $200 or less, a stunning figure no other presidential candidate has matched. Trump continued raising money long after news outlets called the race for Biden, racking up campaign cash he could use to influence the future of the GOP.
While the presidential election drew a record $5.7 billion, congressional races saw a stunning $8.7 billion in total spending.
Nine of the 10 most expensive Senate races ever occurred in the 2020 cycle. Five of the 10 most expensive House races happened in 2020. The rise in congressional spending started in the 2018 cycle, which smashed midterm spending records. All of the 10 most expensive House and Senate contests took place in one of the last two election cycles.
Insurmountable financial advantages among incumbents, along with outright cheating such as districts tailored to favor one party, voter suppression efforts and unfair ballot design laws, essentially paralyze American democracy.