AUGUSTA, Maine — Angus King raised less than any other candidate who won a U.S. Senate race in 2012. The independent former governor raised less than 30 percent of the average cost of a 2012 Senate race.
The 33 senators who won elections in November raised, on average, $10.5 million, according to an analysis released Monday by MapLight, a California-based organization that studies the influence of money on politics. That translates to more than $14,350 every day for two years, MapLight calculated based on Federal Election Commission filings between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012.
King, who won the Senate seat vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe’s retirement in 2012, raised $2.96 million for the race he easily won against four other candidates last year. Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., raised $3.3 million for his re-election campaign, the next lowest total.
Conversely, Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, raised $42.51 million in her successful bid to unseat Republican Scott Brown. In all, 14 U.S. senators raised more than $10 million to win election or re-election in 2012.
King’s fundraising equates to $8 per vote cast, which exceeds campaign-dollars-per-vote totals in more populous states such as California ($2), New York ($4) and Pennsylvania ($4).
King, who criticized the influence of outside money on politics during his campaign, expressed surprise Tuesday that the daily level of fundraising was so high.
“That’s appalling. That’s ridiculous,” he said by phone Tuesday from Washington. “There’s no earthly way that could be justified under any rational form of governance.”
King said he asked to serve on the Senate’s rules committee to work on campaign finance reform, but that the panel has yet to address the topic. While making his way to a hearing at the Capitol, he also offered some off-the-cuff suggestions for improving the system.
“The first, simplest step is disclosure of all outside contributions,” he said of independent expenditures made on behalf of candidates by outside groups that aren’t required to disclose donors in the way that candidates’ campaigns must. “One of the problems … is that the public has no way of knowing who’s donating to those campaigns.”
That third-party spending is separate from the money raised by the candidates’ campaigns, which MapLight used for its calculations. But the possibility that outside groups, funded by anonymous donors, will spend heavily on negative ads — similar to those launched against King by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and national Republican groups in 2012 — forces candidates to raise more to defend themselves, King said.
“Making that public is a first step,” King said. “The public ought to know who’s trying to influence their votes.”
King acknowledged that the change would require a constitutional amendment to supersede the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court “Citizens United” opinion that equates campaign fundraising with free speech. But since taking office in January, he has sensed a growing sentiment for that type of change among some senators and others in D.C.
King also offered a suggestion that he believes would be effective but “grossly unconstitutional,” thus requiring a constitutional amendment before implementation. He threw out the idea that only “those who are entitled to vote for a candidate can contribute” to that candidate’s campaign.
In that scenario, only Maine residents could donate to U.S. Senate campaigns within the state and only people who live in a candidate’s congressional district could contribute to the campaigns of those who aspire to represent that district. King said he recognizes that the idea is far-fetched, but limiting campaign contributions to those who can vote for a candidate “would be the cleanest way to deal with it,” he said.
King said the fundraising culture permeates Washington, and the fact that elected officials must spend a “disproportionate amount of time” dealing with it detracts from their ability to work on government matters.
“It’s not like I’m concentrating on fundraising now, but we’re starting to think about it, and it’s a distraction,” he said.
Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, also expressed concern about the way near-perpetual campaigning affects Congress.
“I have long said that campaigns start too early, last too long, and cost too much,” Collins said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “As an original co-sponsor of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, I was disappointed that the Supreme Court struck down so many key provisions of this bipartisan law.”
Collins, whose third term in the Senate expires in 2014, has yet to announce whether she plans to seek re-election. FEC records show that she reported receiving almost $651,000 in 2011 and 2012, although she was not up for election during that two-year election cycle.
“Our campaign financing system should be transparent so that Americans can know who is funding communications in support of or in opposition to a political candidate or issue,” Collins said. “It is important that such transparency requirements be applied in a fair and even-handed manner.”
In July 2012, Collins joined Snowe and other Senate Republicans in opposing the DISCLOSE Act, a Democratic proposal to force independent campaign financing organizations to identify donors who spend more than $10,000 in an election cycle.
MapLight calculated that successful U.S. House members raised an average of $1.69 million during the two-year election cycle culminating in the November 2012 elections. On average, they raised $2,315 for each day of the 2012 cycle.
Maine’s two U.S. House members, Democrats Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District, both raised less than the average. FEC reports that MapLight used for its calculations list Pingree’s receipts at $1.02 million and Michaud’s at $1.22 million.
All MapLight calculations are based on FEC reports through Feb. 13, 2013.