It was a historically robust year for campaign spending, especially considering there were no federal elections during 2023. The political tracking firm AdImpact says $1.35 billion was spent on political ads this year, setting a record in off-year races. The total was up 1.3% from 2021 when $1.33 billion was spent. And it was a 24% increase from 2019.
The Kentucky gubernatorial election was the most expensive race of 2023. AdImpact saw $92.8 million in ad spending. The total grew by a healthy $14 million during the primary as Republicans fought out who would take on incumbent Democrat Any Beshear. An estimated $78.5 million was spent during the general election, with Democrats holding a $18 million spending advantage over Republicans. That could have been a factor in why, when the votes were cast, Beshear was reelected to a new term.
In Louisiana, a crowded gubernatorial race resulted in more than $30 million in ad spending among 15 candidates. Republican Jeff Landry spent the most -- $9.5 million, per AdImpact numbers – and it paid off as he received over 50% of the votes on election day, flipping the seat from Democrat to Republican.
The fight over abortion rights this year gave Ohio two entries in the list of most expensive races. AdImpact says $28 million was spent on a ballot proposal measure in August that would have raised the vote threshold for amending the constitution from 50% to 60%. Then in November, the ballot measure that put the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution resulted in another $42.3 million in ad spending from a variety of issue groups. Since the August measure was defeated, November’s 57% margin of victory was enough for abortion rights activists to score a victory in the state.
Most Expensive State Judicial Race Ever
Another record was set in Wisconsin this year as a stateside race for a seat that would determine which party would have a majority on the state’s Supreme Court became the most expensive state judicial election in U.S. history, according to AdImpact. It says $40.2 million was spent in a race between Janet Protasiewicz (D) and Daniel Kelly (R), with Protasiewicz proving victorious.
Not all big elections were statewide, however. In Chicago, $21.9 million was spent during the general election and $13.7 million in the runoff election. Incumbent Lori Lightfoot did not make it to the runoff, and in the runoff Paul Vallas had $9 million of ad support versus $4.7 million for Brandon Johnson. But demonstrating the most money doesn’t always matter, Johnson won the runoff election by four points.
Philadelphia also elected a new mayor this year in what AdImpact says was the most expensive election in the city’s history. Five candidates in the primary and their supporters spent a total of $22.6 million. But in a heavily Democratic city, that essentially was the race. By the time the general election was held, just $321,000 was spent on advertising as Cherelle Parker won the election in a landslide.
The hasty start to the Presidential primary ad spending resulted in an earlier-than-normal bump in overall 2024 election spending totals. AdImpact says $1.37 billion has been spent through December 22. That compares to $1.03 billion four years ago.
Among just the Presidential primary races, $277 million in advertising has been bought, mainly in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Nearly all of that – $232 million – has been among the Republican contenders, although Democrats have also put up ads early, spending $54 million this year to back Joe Biden’s reelection.
As voting draws closer and former President Trump’s lead among GOP voters has grown, there have been some recent shifts in ad spending. The political action group supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ bid, has pulled down all of its ads in New Hampshire, saying it will instead use the money on grassroots efforts.
Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign team also announced it was pulling down its broadcast ads with less than a month to go before the Iowa Caucus, to focus on things like mail and telemarketing. AdImpact says he has spent $2.2 million on radio, TV and digital ads so far.
Meantime, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s campaign has been ramping up its spending, and she now has more ads aired or reserved than any other candidate. AdImpact says Haley is on track to spend $49 million, putting her ahead of DeSantis ($47.4 million) and Trump ($43.1 million).