House and Senate Campaign Expenditures:

Available Historical Data Limited, but Range of Limited Estimates for Reported Media-Related Expenditures Possible

GAO-10-685R: Published: Sep 21, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2010.

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William O. Jenkins, Jr
(202) 512-8757


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

This letter formally transmits the briefing in response to congressional direction in a Senate Appropriations Committee Report (S. Rep. No. 110-129) to report on the 10-year trend in House and Senate campaign costs and the percentage of those costs incurred due to rising broadcast advertising rates. Specifically, we are reporting on the extent to which data on House and Senate campaign operating expenditures, especially media-related expenditures, are available and what the data show about the range of estimates of media-related expenditures as a proportion of itemized operating expenditures. On the basis of the results of our review, we are not making any recommendations for congressional consideration or agency action.

Using Federal Election Commission (FEC) data on itemized operating expenditures by principal campaign committees, it was possible to develop a range of estimates for media-related expenditures, but data were not available to determine the House and Senate campaign costs that were attributable to broadcast advertising rates. FEC compiled and provided to GAO electronic databases that included total operating expenditures reported by House and Senate principal campaign committees from 1997 through 2008, and itemized operating expenditures for House candidate committees for the 2004, 2006, and 2008 election cycles and Senate candidate committees for 2007 through 2008. Using these data: (1)Total reported operating expenditures nearly tripled for House candidate committees and approximately doubled for Senate candidate committees duringthe reporting periods we reviewed. (2) Estimates for total media-related expenditures, as a proportion of total itemized operating expenditures, varied depending on the specific media-related terms used to generate estimates. For all House campaigns, the range of estimates was from 8 to 38 percent for the 2004, 2006, and 2008 election cycles and for all Senate campaigns the range was from 6 to over 40 percent for 2007 through 2008. (3) Estimates of media-related expenditures as a proportion of each campaign's total itemized operating expenditures varied across House and Senate campaigns, using the same media-related terms to generate the estimate.

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