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$11B estimated election cost is ‘different from anything we’ve ever seen before’: Open Secrets Executive Director

Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics Executive Director joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to discuss the record breaking projected spending on the 2020 presidential election.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Well according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2020 election could cost a whopping $11 billion. So let's chat the [? cost of ?] politics with Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. So, Sheila, for those at home, how does the $11-billion number stack up with some of the previous elections? I know it is smashing records, but how badly?

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Well, the 10.8 billion we predict for 2020 is 50% higher than the amount spent in 2016. So really this is on a plane, on a level, altogether different from anything we've ever seen before.

KRISTIN MYERS: And what do you think is causing that price tag to go up so much? Is it-- does it-- is it around the fact that it's Donald Trump and that he has been such a lightning rod when it comes to fundraising? Is it a function of the fact that we have ActBlue and WinRed making donations easier? What is causing so many people to donate so much money to elections?

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: I really think it's the confluence of all of these things. First and foremost, of course, the motivation donors, voters, have in this election revolving primarily around the president-- either his supporters who are also giving at a fevered pitch and his detractors. Women are making up a larger portion of the donor base. Small donors, again, facilitated by these online platforms. These giving platforms-- on the left ActBlue, and on the right, WinRed-- are making up a bigger portion too. So it's really a number of things coming together, but I think the most compelling or significant factor is the president.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now the cost of elections has been increasing throughout the years. Is this what we can expect going forward, this trend? If we have 11 billion for the 2020 election, could we expect perhaps the next midterm elections, 12, 13, 14 billion being spent?

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: You know, I think some elements will stay with us going forward regardless of whatever comes, whether the president wins, whether he loses. And there are-- campaign finance reform is in the works. Whatever happens, I think we will see higher engagement, and I hope we will see more people engaged, involved in democracy.

But online platforms really are here to stay and will be encouraging or helping facilitate more of these donations. Whether we have continued diversity in participants, both as donors and in political engagement, that remains to be seen. So the big question is whether this is the new normal for the future, for future elections, and it's just really very difficult to tell at this point.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now the president, as we have been all chatting about all day, recently diagnosed with coronavirus. Do you think this is going to impact how much money that his campaign is going to be able to pull in as he really can't go out and fundraise or campaign or head to rallies as he heals from this virus?

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Really, probably not. My expertise to know whether or not his diagnosis will-- how that will affect support for his campaign or fundraising. But certainly the coronavirus has had a huge impact on how the campaigns are spending their money. So far less is going to travel and events, President Trump's rallies notwithstanding. More money is being spent on media and far more is being spent on online ads which are used to attract new donors and spur supporters to request mail-in ballots. So that's become a pretty significant factor in this cycle.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now we obviously are still over a month, just over a month, away from the election. Actually it might be right-- I can't even remember what day it is. A month-- exactly a month from tomorrow. (LAUGHING) Apologies. So we still have four weeks left of fundraising. I know that the Center for Responsive Politics has a great resource and tool called OpenSecrets. I've used it many times myself while investigating campaign donations and how much money is being brought in from PACs and super PACs. I'm wondering if you're seeing any indications at all that perhaps donors are getting fatigued or if, you know, anyone is becoming fatigued when it comes to spending. Or actually is it accelerating the closer we get to the election?

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: In fact, outside groups-- super PACs and non-disclosing nonprofits that are spending on behalf of and against the candidates-- have surpassed $1 billion already, which is just astonishing. And just today, these outside spending groups passed 2018 and 2012 to rise to $1.3 billion already spent.

So in fact, the nearly $11 billion estimate that we have projected may be too low. I mean, we try to be conservative. We hope it's-- or we think it's on target. But in fact, you know, it's impossible to know exactly whether the rate of spending this cycle is comparable to prior cycles. So, in fact, it could be higher. We don't think it will be lower, however.