From the biggest national races to the small local ones, more money is being pumped into campaigns than ever before.
It was evident in the August elections. There was unprecedented amounts of campaign cash in school board races and primary races for state lawmakers.
And that money made a difference.
Channel 4 News took a look at some of the big issues coming up next session and whether campaign contributions could help sway any votes.
In August, the National Rifle Association poured $75,000 into a campaign to defeat Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, and it worked.
"Money matters," said VU political science professor Marc Hetherington. "Oftentimes people talk about money being the mother's milk of politics. The more money you have, the better off you are."
And in state races, the amount of money coming from special interest groups grows every year.
Many times some of the groups with stakes in the hottest button issues are donating a lot of cash.
"They like to say, 'We're doing it to make better democracy and make better the system better,' but they are obviously interested in making their points more aggressively," said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause.
In the August primary, a pro-school voucher group poured more than $100,000 into state races.
In recent campaign filings, the Tennessee Education Association made about $200,000 in donations to many lawmakers who oppose or question vouchers.
Wine and spirit wholesalers, who oppose the effort to bring wine into grocery stores, donated more than $50,000 to lawmakers, including many who sit on the committee that votes down the issue every year.
Healthcare groups and business groups are also big donors.
What does all of this money actually buy? Political analysts said there's no evidence it actually changes a lawmaker's vote.
But it goes get them something important - access.
"What they definitely expect is an opportunity to get in and talk with a member of Congress or the member of the state legislature if they want to," said Hetherington.
Overall, Hetherington said elections are now a $4 billion industry, particularly expensive in presidential election years like this one.
He sees no end to the uptick in campaign contributions in sight, particularly in light of recent court decisions.
Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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