How Georgia's Senate races became the most expensive ever

  • The 2020 Georgia Senate races are the most expensive in US history.
  • More than $480 million has been spent on ad placement in the runoff elections, and that's just since Election Day.
  • The cost of running a political campaign in the US has been growing steadily over the past decade due to the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Just since Election Day, Georgia Senate candidates and outside groups have spent $480 million on advertising, according to AdImpact. That's more than the Trump campaign spent on the entire 2016 presidential run, according to OpenSecrets. 

"The Senate majority is hanging in the balance, and every outside group worth its salt is going to want to get in on that action and try to make a dent with ad spending," BI politics reporter Jake Lahut said. 

 

Campaign spending in the US has skyrocketed during the last decade. And it continued to break records in 2020, with nine of the 10 most expensive Senate races of all time, according to OpenSecrets. 

 

A tight election in November forced a runoff for both of Georgia's Senate seats. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are the Republican incumbents, up against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in races that have major national implications. If both Democrats win, it will flip the Senate to blue and give Democrats control of the executive and legislative branches of government. 

 

The $480 million spent on ad placement since Election Day doesn't even factor in the other costs that go into a political campaign.

 

"You've got polling, you've got lawyers' fees, you've got compliance," said Will Ritter, cofounder and CEO of Poolhouse, an advertising firm that works with Repulican campaigns and outside groups. "And then an ad itself has a lot of professionals that work on it as well."

 

These numbers dwarf what's spent on politics in other democracies. Political parties in Canada were capped at spending $29 million last year, according to CBC.

 

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that political spending was protected as a form of free speech. That meant corporations and other outside groups could spend as much money as they wanted, as long as they didn't coordinate with campaigns.

In Georgia, only about half of the spending on ads is coming from the candidates themselves. The rest of the money is pouring in from groups across the country.

 

"Everybody who is interested in the control of the US government is going to be putting their money and their effort into Georgia," Ritter said, "because it all comes down to this."

 

Even with the rise in digital media, TV is still the best way to reach voters. And in 2020, Facebook and Google banned political ads on their platforms from Election Day through mid-December. That made TV even more crucial in the Georgia runoffs.

 

In the 2020 elections, TV had more influence on voters than all other media combined. That includes radio, social media, mail, and 20 other categories.

 

"If you think of the last TV ad you saw that you liked, now tell me the last banner ad online that you saw," Ritter said. "Right? I mean, there's just less of an impact."

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