The battle for control of Congress pushed the price for the fall elections to a new high of $626.4 million.
Congressional candidates in the general election alone spent $36.8 million, or 6.3 percent, more than they did in the previous record year of 1994, the Federal Election Commission reported Tuesday.
The increase was fueled entirely by House races, as the GOP successfully defended its control of the chamber against a furious effort by Democrats to oust Speaker Newt Gingrich and his army of Republican freshmen.
House candidates in the fall election spent a total $405.6 million, up 24 percent from 1994. With their first control of the House in four decades, Republican candidates outspent their Democratic opponents $217 million to $186 million. The remainder was raised by independents.
The king of the money race was Gingrich, who raised and spent nearly twice as much as his nearest colleague. His first term as speaker reaped $6.2 million in contributions, and he spent $5.4 million as he fended off a challenge from a businessman in his Georgia district.
The Democrats’ House leader, Richard Gephardt of Missouri, was also among the top spenders at $2.9 million.
Freshmen lawmakers accounted for about 20 of the 50 biggest spenders cited by the FEC. Among them was Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, ($2.3 million), Frank Cremeans, R-Ohio, ($1.7 million), and Jon Christensen, R-Neb., Jon Fox, R-Penn., and Charles Norwood, R-Ga., each of whom spent $1.6 million.
Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., one of the 1994-era freshmen’s loudest advocates of campaign finance reform, was also among the big spenders at $1.2 million. She narrowly won re-election.