Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff decried “the role of money in politics” in an interview aired Tuesday, despite running the most expensive congressional campaign in history.
Ossoff made the comments to NPR on the morning of the special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, which he lost later that night to Republican Karen Handel after raising about five times more than her campaign. His campaign also spent nearly seven times more on advertisement time and other costs than Handel.
Still, Ossoff, who ended up losing by 3.8 percentage points, called money in politics a “major problem.”
“The role of money in politics is a major problem and particularly the role of unchecked anonymous money,” Ossoff told NPR host Rachel Martin. “There have been super PACs in Washington who have been putting up tens of millions of dollars of attack ads in here for months now.”
Ossoff outspent his Republican opponent $22.2 million to $3.5 million on advertisements and other campaign expenses, according to an election-eve analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Handel benefitted from more political action committee money to support her, but Ossoff still retained a massive spending advantage.
Ossoff described his spending advantage as a product of small donations “fighting back” against money from conservative PACs.
“When you have that kind of an environment, it’s necessary to raise the resources to fight back,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that my campaign has raised that money in small-dollar contributions, on average less than $50.”
Martin then interjected to say that Democrats were responsible for the lion’s share of the spending.
“Although, it was your party that started the big spending,” Martin told Ossoff. “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also found your campaign and groups supporting it spent about $2 million more in ad spending than Handel during the runoff.”
“Well, the overwhelming majority of money spent supporting my opponent has come from super PACs in Washington,” Ossoff responded.
He went on to call for campaign finance reform so candidates will spend less time fundraising.
“There’s no question that money in politics is a major problem, which is one of the reasons that we need campaign finance reform so that candidates and campaigns will spend more time talking to voters and discussing the issues and less time raising money,” Ossoff said.
The Georgia Democrat drew criticism during his campaign for more than 95 percent of his contributions coming from out of state.
The race between Ossoff and Handel was the most expensive congressional election in history, with candidates and outside groups spending roughly $55 million.
Democrats have criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling for allowing free speech rights for outside political groups. Hillary Clinton ran for president on opposing the decision, which liberalized regulations on corporate political speech. The high court ruled that it was legal for Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group, to screen a documentary critical of Clinton.