Money in the 1994 Elections and Beyond
THEODORE J. EISMEIER PHILIP H. POLLOCK III
After nearly a decade of sluggish growth, the economy of campaign finance surged again in the 1994 congressional elections. The $616 million spent by House and Senate candidates in the general elections was 16 percent above 1992 levels, and another $108 million was spent by candidates in special elections and by losers in primaries. As usual, it was extravagance--the more than $28 million Michael Huffington contributed in California to his own campaign for Senate and the almost $21 million raised by Virginia's Oliver North in his campaign for Senate--that gained the most attention. By some accounts, however, such celebrated cases were emblematic of a broader Republican advantage in campaign finance, which helped produce a political cataclysm. Comparing the destruction of the Democratic Congress in 1994 to the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, an observer noted in the aftermath of the election that "sudden, violent changes in an ocean of money are less visually dramatic than shifts in the Bay of Naples. But long before the Federal Election Commission unveils its final report on the financing of the 1994 midterm elections, it is already clear that in the weeks before the explosion that buried alive the Democratic Party, changes in financial flows occurred that were as remarkable as anything Pliny and his terrified cohorts witnessed 2,000 years ago: A sea of money that had been flowing reliably to Congressional Democrats and the party that controlled the White House abruptly reversed direction and began gushing in torrents to Republican challengers" ( Ferguson 1994: 792).
However, now that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has closed the books on the 1994 midterm elections, the evidence shows that there was no tidal wave of Republican money, at least not a wave large enough to explain the extraordinary results of the election. The fact that money continued to flow into congressional campaigns in much the same way in 1994 that it had for the last several election cycles--despite significant signs of a political upheaval in the months before the election--is powerful testimony to the inertia of the campaign economy. Still, there were interesting ripples of change in this election, and Republican control of Congress is certain to roil the waters of campaign finance.