News Release

Why It’s So Hard to Get Off the “Fiscal Cliff”: Big Money and the 2012 House Elections


Ferguson is professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, senior fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, and contributing editor at AlterNet. Jorgensen is assistant professor of political science at University of Texas, Pan American and non-resident fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center at Harvard.

They are the authors, with Jie Chen, of “Revealed: Why the Pundits Are Wrong about Big Money and the 2012 Elections,” just out on AlterNet. Their piece is particularly timely as Congress debates whether and how to raise taxes and cut spending on the edge of the “fiscal cliff.” They write: “It is impossible to assess precisely the totality of money’s influence on the 2012 elections, but notions that it did not matter can be immediately dismissed. The evidence we have reviewed suggests exactly the opposite. … [A] virtual straight line relationship existed between Democratic candidates’ shares of total political money and their showing against their Republican opponents. …

“[We examined] spending differences between Democrats and Republicans in two types of races that should have had better than average chances of being winnable by both parties in 2012. The first involves districts in which a new Republican candidate won for the first time in the 2010 landslide; the other is the smaller subset of those races in which the GOP winner either ousted an incumbent Democrat or defeated a Democrat running in an “open seat” race. Both kinds of districts show heavy Republican advantages in average total spending compared to their Democratic opponents.”

Ferguson and Jorgensen observed today that a substantial portion of GOP funds came from groups like Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works, or the Club for Growth that were critical of House Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B.” “The evidence is that these little piggies went to market,” Ferguson said. “The GOP problem is that they didn’t all go to the same market.” Jorgensen added that funds from such organizations “totaled many millions of dollars,” though he noted that reporting was not yet complete.