A week after the first anniversary of her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, former Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren finds herself in the most expensive and probably most-watched Congressional race of the 2012 election.
Warren and her incumbent opponent, current Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, have together raised $41 million already, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and with polls deadlocked heading into the campaign's home stretch, they will not likely be caught.
Three months from Election Day, the campaign is already the most expensive in Massachusetts state history, thanks in part to the millions of donations to both candidates from across the country.
When Warren entered the race in September, she was already $11 million behind Brown. She's since raised $24 million, federal election filings show. Much of that support has come from more than 40,000 small donors, who constitute about 40 percent of her haul. Her campaign has emphasized her work fashioning the CFPB, a government agency created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill to regulate financial companies following the 2008 financial crisis. She's used that, as well as her role on the congressional panel overseeing the Wall Street bailout, to fundraise as one of few politicians to "stand up to Wall Street."
The result has been huge fundraising support from outside Massachusetts, including fundraisers hosted by actors such as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and John Krasinski, all of whom once resided in the Bay State.
Sen. Brown is a prolific fund-raiser as well. He's the only Senator who comes close to Warren in that regard, but his $17 million has come through different means. Almost seventy percent has come from large donations and one-fourth of his cash has come from the financial sector, according to CRP. Brown's biggest supporters are those being policed by Warren's advocacy, such as Goldman Sachs and Fidelity Investments.
He's also received the maximum amount from the corporate PAC of Capital One. Last week, it was revealed that the credit card company will pay $210 million in fines and refunds after an investigation led by the CFPB revealed it deliberately misled customers. The bureau will collect $25 million in fines from Capital One.
The huge cash flow is both a reflection of the strength of the candidates and larger issues surrounding the race, says Maurice Cunningham, chair of the political science department of UMass-Boston.
"The Warren campaign has capitalized on her deserved reputation of standing up to Wall Street and Brown has, like most politicians, gotten some money from them," he says. "Still, Brown took Ted Kennedy's seat in a heavily Democratic state, and has become the state's most popular politician."
The Brown-Warren race is ground-breaking not just for its sheer volume of cash. In January, the candidates signed a pact, The People's Pledge, to attempt to ban outside groups from advertising in the campaign. The agreement states that each candidate is required to donate half the cost of TV or Internet ads run by an outside group to the charity of the opposing candidate's choice.
Thus far, Brown has twice donated to charity as a result of the pledge, which has likely prevented millions of dollars of outside spending in what has become the most high profile Senate race in the country. Though many predicted the pledge would not hold up throughout the campaign, there have been few signs that it will be broken.
"Massachusetts voters like the pledge," Cunningham says. "I think there will be a backlash against the candidate that breaks it or allows it to be broken."