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2012 Election Breaks Campaign-Finance Records

Some of the results may not be known for weeks, but the most expensive election ever in Washington state wrapped up Tuesday night. 

Fifty-six bucks.  If you're a registered voter in Washington state, that’s what was spent by candidates and their surrogates trying to win your vote in state, local and federal races this year. That could be enough to buy a tank full of gas, a big bag of groceries or a nice dinner for two. Instead, it bought you a bunch of sternly narrated ads, glossy flyers and robo-calls.

The hotly contested governor's race racked up the biggest bill, at more than $40 million.

Fans of initiatives to legalize gay marriage and charter schools also spent more than $10 million each. Much of those campaigns' war chests arrived in chunks of six or seven figures, either from local billionaires or national political outfits.

All told, more than $200 million has flowed into this election in Washington—more than any other in state history. This year's election was also one for the record books at the national level, with $6 billion spent nationwide.  

"We saw a lot of evidence of that in our mailboxes and TV commercials," said Lori Anderson with the Public Disclosure Commission. The PDC tracks the money in state and local politics in Washington and during election season, that means tracking political advertising.

"That's what all that money was spent on," said Anderson. “And I think we're all glad that's coming to an end.”

For the past 20 years, state law has limited direct contributions to candidates. But for ballot measures and for groups spending money independently of a given campaign, the sky's the limit.

"When you limit direct contributions, I think you're always going to see a rise in independent spending," Anderson said. "Money always finds a way."

Anderson says the full extent of this year's campaign cash may not be known for a couple of months, since campaigns can keep raising money until January.

Year started with KUOW: 2009