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Following the Money — Campaign Donations and Spending in the 2008 Presidential Race

As we’ve shown at FairVote in study after study, the great majority of people and states are ignored during the election for our country’s highest office. In 2008, all 300 of the campaign events with major party candidates for president and vice-president that took place after the Republican National Convention were in just 19 states. From September 24 – two days before the first general election debate – through Election Day on November 4, 99.75% of all advertising spending was in just 18 states.

But in the 2008 election, every state was invested at least in one way – they all had residents who donated to and financed the two major party candidates’ campaigns. However, when it came down to the stretch run, the candidates did not reciprocate this national effort.  The remaining 32 states and the District of Columbia that received a combined 0.25% of campaign advertising were left as net exporters, sometimes in massive sums, of campaign money.

The ten biggest net exporters of campaign donations were California, New York, Illinois, Texas, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, New Jersey and Connecticut. Their residents were responsible for 59.99% of all donations to the two campaigns. In return, they received a total of 0.06% of campaign advertising spending during the peak campaign season – that is, $1 dollar of advertising spending in their state for every $1,000 they donated.

Meanwhile, the 18 net importers of campaign spending – with Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio leading the way – were showered with almost the entirety of national attention during the peak campaign season. Though they received 99.75% of all advertising over that stretch, they were responsible for only 27.70% of all donations to the major party campaigns. Florida alone received 18.18% of advertising despite being responsible for only 4.91% of donations.

This discrepancy is a clear consequence of the Electoral College winner-take-all system in place in 48 states and the District of Columbia. If the election was decided based on a national popular vote, states could finance in-state campaigning and have activism that stayed within their communities. Instead, states like Massachusetts and Vermont campaign in neighboring New Hampshire, Delaware and New Jersey campaign in Pennsylvania and Maryland and D.C. campaign in Virginia. The only states worth attention in the stretch run are the small group of swing states.

It should come as no surprise then that four of the top 10 net exporting states – Illinois, Maryland, Washington and New Jersey – have passed the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact into law and California has sent it to the governor twice (with Schwarzenegger vetoing it both times). Under the NPV plan, once enough states sign on to represent a majority of the Electoral College (currently 270-538), they will award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner of each individual state. This will then determine the winner by the candidate with the most votes nationwide.

For a full listing of campaign donation vs. campaign spending, see the below chart, with net exporters of campaign money in red:

State Total Donations % of National Donations Peak Season Candidate Ad $ % of Candidate Ad $
California $151,127,483 17.76% $28,288 0.02%
New York $89,538,628 10.52% $2,235 0.00%
Illinois $50,900,675 5.98% $53,896 0.03%
Texas $46,327,287 5.44% $4,641 0.00%
Virginia $44,845,304 5.27% $16,634,262 10.34%
District of Columbia $44,275,246 5.20% $0 0.00%
Florida $41,770,516 4.91% $29,249,985 18.18%
Massachusetts $36,230,225 4.26% $20 0.00%
Maryland $28,723,600 3.37% $0 0.00%
Washington $24,666,430 2.90% $5,062 0.00%
Pennsylvania $23,929,821 2.81% $24,903,675 15.48%
New Jersey $22,756,469 2.67% $0 0.00%
Colorado $18,800,854 2.21% $7,944,875 4.94%
Connecticut $16,526,530 1.94% $0 0.00%
Georgia $16,507,714 1.94% $177,805 0.11%
Ohio $15,984,435 1.88% $16,845,415 10.47%
Arizona $15,334,618 1.80% $75,042 0.05%
Michigan $15,007,118 1.76% $5,780,198 3.59%
North Carolina $14,337,669 1.68% $9,556,598 5.94%
Minnesota $10,894,627 1.28% $4,262,784 2.65%
Oregon $10,155,182 1.19% $2,754 0.00%
Missouri $9,997,747 1.17% $7,970,313 4.95%
Wisconsin $8,133,046 0.96% $8,936,200 5.56%
Tennessee $7,934,886 0.93% $9,955 0.01%
New Mexico $6,418,313 0.75% $3,134,146 1.95%
Indiana $6,225,848 0.73% $8,964,817 5.57%
South Carolina $5,744,471 0.67% $910 0.00%
Nevada $5,273,523 0.62% $7,108,542 4.42%
Hawaii $5,045,151 0.59% $0 0.00%
Oklahoma $4,359,169 0.51% $4,170 0.00%
Kentucky $4,338,611 0.51% $635 0.00%
Alabama $4,333,420 0.51% $1,385 0.00%
Louisiana $4,330,756 0.51% $2,279 0.00%
New Hampshire $4,045,877 0.48% $2,924,839 1.82%
Iowa $3,649,836 0.43% $3,713,223 2.31%
Maine $3,344,447 0.39% $832,204 0.52%
Kansas $3,333,235 0.39% $3,141 0.00%
Utah $3,287,184 0.39% $66 0.00%
Vermont $2,852,896 0.34% $0 0.00%
Arkansas $2,446,323 0.29% $1,897 0.00%
Mississippi $2,400,625 0.28% $1,731 0.00%
Rhode Island $2,343,926 0.28% $0 0.00%
Montana $1,882,200 0.22% $971,040 0.60%
Nebraska $1,867,197 0.22% $807 0.00%
Delaware $1,745,123 0.21% $0 0.00%
Alaska $1,611,031 0.19% $310 0.00%
Idaho $1,610,072 0.19% $368 0.00%
Wyoming $1,488,479 0.17% $0 0.00%
West Virginia $1,236,993 0.15% $733,025 0.46%
South Dakota $758,626 0.09% $980 0.00%
North Dakota $442,998 0.05% $18,365 0.01%
Total $851,122,440 100.00% $160,862,883 100.00%

*Donations statistics from the FEC

*Advertising statistics from CNN

See more maps like this in FairVote's Mapping American Democracy series.