The Always-Rising Cost of Congressional Campaigns

House members must raise money not only for their own campaigns, but their party as well.

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Life can be rigorous for members of Congress, where the elections come every two years and their costs are constantly ballooning. On top of the money they scrape together for their own war chest, their party asks for some of that hard-earned cash in order to help their more vulnerable peers.

According to recent FEC reports, in the 2012 election alone, incumbent members of the House of Representatives have raised more than $546 million, a significant increase over the same time in 2010. House Republicans, who are in the majority, outraised their Democratic counterparts, earning more than $337 million compared to Democrats' $209 million.

The numbers show that the cost of congressional races is continually rising, and experts say it could be coming at the voters' expense.

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"It is a major distraction from making laws and representing constituents in Congress," says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College. "Members are spending substantial amounts of time attending fundraisers."

In the modern Congress, Corrado says members are given informal quotas, requirements and rewards to help incentivize them to become part of the team.

"A member's ability to raise money is an important consideration, specifically when it comes to receiving the more important assignments in Congress," Corrado says. "There have been some cases that the candidate who raised the most money for the party earned key chairman positions."

A Republican House Aide acknowledged the significant role campaign committees put on members to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the fundraising arms of both parties.

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"Members of Congress are expected to pay dues," the aide says. "And in this environment, when TV ads and resources are so critical, members need to spend a significant amount of time dialing for dollars."

Jim McDermott, a U.S. Rep. from Washington State, says he's expected to hand over $250,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle.

"If I raise money, why should I sit on a pile of money? Why wouldn't I give it to someone else?" he says, adding that he is happy to help out. "There is a real encouragment and expectation that you do that."

Throughout the years, McDermott says he has been lucky enough to be in a relatively safe district, but with redistricting and 30 percent of his voters being new constituents, he's spending about 10 hours a week—a considerabe amount of time—working the phones for cash. McDermott says he knows a few members who spend half of their time fundraising..

"It is the worst part of being a member of Congress," McDermott says. "The people sent me back here to deal with issues, and that is not a good deal with the American people."

Because of their status, House leaders are at the top of the fundraising game.

The House's MVP is unequivocally Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner. He raked in $8.3 million in the second quarter alone, which helped him surpass the $80 million mark in fundraising since he became Speaker of the House.

Boehner, who is running unopposed back home, isn't keeping all that cash to himself. Boehner donates major amounts to his Republican counterparts, all in an effort to keep Republicans in a House majority.

"Majority control means everything in the modern Congress," Corrado says. "Given the partisan divide, majority control is the way to legislative power."

Boehner can transfer up to $5,000 from his leadership PACs and $2,000 from his own campaign committee to his colleagues' coffers. In the current election cycle, Boehner has given thousands to Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek, California Rep. Brian Bilbray, and dozens of others.

Former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is another rising star on the campaign finance front. The Minnesota Congresswoman raised nearly $15 million this year, much of which was raised during her run for the Republican presidential nomination.