According to Russell Brand:

Screencast with Russell Brand

Every election in American history has been won by the party with the most money to campaign.

Let's assume that he means every presidential election. Has every presidential election in U.S. history been won by the party with the most money to campaign?

Edit: To make this question answerable, let's stick to elections recent enough where campaign financing is publicly available.

  • 25
    Beware of precedents xkcd.com/1122
    – Linkyu
    Feb 20, 2015 at 3:40
  • 4
    Given the complexity of campaign finance, and the many entities contributing and spending money, how do you propose to define how much money a party "has" to campaign? Feb 20, 2015 at 4:55
  • 6
    @SteveJessop I'm pretty sure the whole proposal is a joke. You did pick that up, right?
    – user11643
    Feb 20, 2015 at 10:40
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    This is difficult to answer unless specified cleanly. For example, the NYT has a breakdown of the 2012 presidential election. Obama (as a candidate) raised and spent more than Romney did, but the Republican party spent more than the Democratic party, and the PAC situation muddles it up even more. Adding it up, Obama's "side" raised a bit more than Romney's, but spent a bit less (if you agree with the NYT: Open Secrets has different numbers due to the grey areas involved). How do we interpret this?
    – Is Begot
    Feb 20, 2015 at 14:22
  • 9
    There's also the question of correllation vs. causation. It seems likely that the more popular candidate--the one who will eventually win--will be able to raise more donations by virtue of his popularity.
    – KSmarts
    Feb 24, 2015 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


No, it isn't true.

The most clear example is 1964.

According to "Presidential Elections: Strategies and Structures of American Politics" at page 65:

Barry Goldwater's losing campaign spent $17.2 million, significantly more than Johnson's $12 million expenditure

The book references the statement to: Herbert E. Alexander and Harold B. Meyers, “The Switch in Campaign Giving,” Fortune, November 1965, 103–8.

Another source has the following list and says it is from New York magazine but independently verified (winners are in bold, the second candidate spent more):

John F. Kennedy: $9.8 million
Richard Nixon: $10.1 million

Lyndon Johnson: $8.8 million
Barry Goldwater: $16 million

Hubert Humphrey: $11.6 million
Richard Nixon: $25.4 million

George McGovern: $30 million
Richard Nixon: $61.4 million

Jimmy Carter: $33.4 million
Gerald Ford: $35.8 million

1980 Jimmy Carter: $49 million
Ronald Reagan: $57.7 million

Walter Mondale: $66.7 million
Ronald Reagan: $67.5 million

Michael Dukakis: $77.3 million
George H.W. Bush: $80 million

George H.W. Bush: $92.6 million
Bill Clinton: $92.9 million

Bill Clinton: $108.5 million
Bob Dole: $110.2 million

Al Gore: $127.1 million
George W. Bush: $172.1 million

John Kerry: $328.5 million
George W. Bush: $367.2 million

John McCain: $350.1 million
Barack Obama: $745.7 million

While there are a few other example in the list of the losing candidate spending slightly more, 1964 is the only clear example of the losing candidate spending significantly more.

From another point of view, Ross Perot certainly could have outspent Clinton and Dole if he wanted to.

Update 2016: according to What Trump and Hillary Spent vs Every General Election Candidate Since 1960 the following is spending by each candidate in real dollars from 1960-2016:

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The Federal Election Commission says Clinton 563.9 million, Trump 328.4 million.

  • 1
    and interestingly enough, in many cases the difference is small, even within error margins. Also, remember that the figures aren't always accurate. Some funding may be used for other things, not used at all, some campaigns may have unreported funds, people putting in private money that's not in the books (think someone using their private ATM or credit card to pay for lunch or gas during a road trip rather than campaign funds).
    – jwenting
    Apr 1, 2015 at 4:19
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    Now Trump can be added to the list of counter-examples.
    – Golden Cuy
    Nov 13, 2016 at 0:03
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    @AndrewGrimm yes, I will add
    – DavePhD
    Nov 13, 2016 at 0:34
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    @jwenting Not on the campaign itself, but if you assume influence to be proportional to wealth, then being richer than your opponent could still be contribute to your chances to be elected. I agree that this answer does not quite fit the question. As a final remark, speaking of statistical significance when comparing two numbers which are not means and do not come out of any well-defined population is nonsensical.
    – Erik
    Nov 14, 2016 at 8:45
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    Wow! Obama in 2008 outspent the total (not adjusted for inflation) spent by the highest spending candidate 1960 to 2000. Jul 3, 2019 at 8:54

There are two ways to interpret this. One is that when we're talking about the "richer" candidate, what we really mean is the campaign that spends more. There is already an answer showing that isn't true, as there have been three exceptions from 1960 to now: 1960, 1964, and 2016. This is rather clearly the claim from the question:

Every election in American history has been won by the party with the most money to campaign.

The other way is that the richer candidate is the person who happens to be richer. I don't think that this is the claim from the question, but others disagree. This interpretation may fix the three exceptions. John F. Kennedy was almost certainly richer than Richard Nixon. Lyndon B. Johnson may well have been richer than Barry Goldwater. Donald Trump was almost certainly richer than Hillary Clinton.

Wikipedia has a list of presidents by net worth. The list is based on "The Net Worth of the American Presidents: Washington to Trump". 24/7 Wall St. 247wallst.com. November 10, 2016. Retrieved April 10, 2019.

John F. Kennedy  $1100 million
Richard Nixon      $17 million
Lyndon B. Johnson $109 million
Donald Trump     $3100 million
Bill Clinton       $75 million

It does not include Barry Goldwater, who was never president, but another source puts Goldwater at less than $1 million.

Hillary Clinton is not included, but presumably she had the same net worth as Bill.

Kennedy is not listed on Wikipedia so went back to the source.

Even assuming that this fixes those three exceptions, it opens up a whole new set.

Barack Obama $40 million
George W. Bush $39 million

Now, let's compare to three of their challengers.

Mitt Romney had between $190 and $250 million (source), which is greater than Obama's peak of $40 million. Obama's peak came after Obama left office. In 2012, I believe he had $10-20 million, mostly from book royalties. Example source.

John McCain had at least $20 million (source). By the same source, Obama had less than $4 million in 2008. It's also worth noting that most sources peg Cindy McCain's wealth at $200 million. Regardless, $20 million is larger than $4 million.

John Kerry had $274 million in 2004 (source) and was the richest Senator. This is well ahead of George W. Bush's peak net worth of $39 million.

So of the last four presidential elections, three were won by the poorer candidate.

Under this interpretation, the claim actually does worse. Of course, that may be because the current situation is different. But looking back further finds that Herbert Hoover was richer than Franklin D. Roosevelt (both are in the Wikipedia list). And Teddy Roosevelt was richer than Woodrow Wilson. In 1992, Bill Clinton was much poorer than George H. W. Bush (although he would later become richer).

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