Americans Spent $36 Million on Negative 2014 Campaign Ads Last Month

Congratulations to the Democratic Party, handily outraising Republicans in September. But the real winners are the American people, who again invested heavily in the TV ads they'll complain about next fall.

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Congratulations to the Democratic Party's House elections PAC, which was able to raise $8.4 million in the month of September, far more than the $5.3 million its Republican equivalent raised. But the real winners are the American people, who again invested heavily in the TV ads they'll complain about next fall.

Of the Democrats' take, $2 million came in the days after Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster, according to The Hill. People were mad; people handed over credit card numbers. (That sentiment worked both ways.) Unsurprisingly, the Democrats' Senate campaign committee also bested the Republican total, pulling in $4.6 million to the Republicans' $3.4 million. And as The Washington Post notes, the Democratic National Committee at large raised $7.4 million to the Republicans' $7.1 million.

The total: $20.4 million for Democrats, $15.8 million for Republicans.

So what good are these numbers? Not a lot, really. Monthly fundraising is a relatively unimportant benchmark, used more as a sort of barometer of public opinion than anything, as it was last month. Yes, if one party had raised zero dollars and then had to sell everything it owns, there might be some long-standing effects, but incremental differentiation between party committees — much less three different party committees — doesn't do much at all. The distinction in fundraising totals between candidates is more significant, but even that isn't a great guide this far out from the election.

You know what the Democratic Party raised in October 2010? Sixteen million bucks — a total that overshadowed any previous month's after campaign finance reform. And then a month later the party got completely demolished as the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives. And the Republicans did so even as they tried to hide massive debts. This is an unimportant metric!

What's really baffling is why Americans would spend $36.2 million on congressional elections at a time when the body has never been less popular. Obviously, a lot of that money, particularly on the Democratic side, was meant to help elect Democrats to replace the Republicans — but Ted Cruz isn't up for reelection until 2018. And the Republicans took in $5.3 million for races in a body it already controls. America, this is a bad investment. It is a bad investment because it rewards bad behavior. It is a bad investment because it turns the power of determining where to invest in races over to party committees. It is a bad investment because it is largely dissociated from victory.

Americans get the significance. Contributions to political parties are like party-line votes that you can take any time you want. "I was so mad at Ted Cruz," some guy in Los Gatos, California, probably said, "that I gave $100 to the DNC." It's a mark of displeasure for everyone that didn't get a call from Gallup.

But it is also sowing seeds that you'll see again next fall. Or, rather, that the guy in Los Gatos won't see. Some person in Colorado's Sixth Congressional District will see one more round of anti-Mike Coffman ads, thanks to the well-meaning but misguided efforts of Democrats around the rest of the country. It's not an elegant system, this democracy of ours, but at least it's quantifiable in dollar amounts.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.