More than $4bn was spent on the presidential and congressional candidates and campaigns in the first 18 months of the election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Presidential candidates have received $601.9m of that money, the data released on Wednesday, shows, while $1.21bn has been donated to congressional candidates donated to presidential candidates personally.

The Federal Election Commission compiled campaign finance reports filed between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2012 to produce the report. The time period covers the Republican primaries and the buildup to the presidential race.

In total $4.06bn was received by presidential candidates, congressional candidates, party committees and PACs over the 18-month-period. There are no direct figures directly comparing the same period available from 2008 or earlier, but Bill Allison, from the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, said ultimately more money will be spent on the 2012 campaign.

"This is 18 months and we're at $4bn, 2008 the entire election cycle ended up being at $5.2bn, so there's still a quarter of the money to go," Allison said. "We'll definitely top that number. The current projection is about $5.8bn that we'll see for 2012."

The fact that the FEC data shows money raised until 30 June 2012 accounts for the relatively small amount of expenditure in the figures. Of the $4.6bn raised in total, just $2.88bn had been spent in the same period, which candidates and organisations likely waiting until closer to 6 November to spend the money raised.

The presidential candidates raised $601.9m over the 18-month period, spending $407.9m, although included in those figures is money raised and spent by Republican primary chancers such as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Interestingly, over the same period in 2008 presidential candidates raised far more money – $1.05bn – which Allison said was a reflection of both sides having to choose a presidential candidate.

"In 2008 you have the primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – they both raised so much money and it ran all the way through June. Romney wrapped up the nomination in mid-April and for all practical purposes earlier than that, so you didn't have two candidates who were raising money all the way through."

Elsewhere the FEC data show the money generated by congressional candidates has risen every election cycle since 2002. Back then, $610.1m was donated candidates running for congress and senate. That increased to $789.8m in 2004, and by 2010 $1.18bn was raised. In 2012, that amount was $1.21bn.

Some $1.29bn was received by Pacs – including corporate groups, labor groups, trade unions and Super Pacs, which can receive unlimited donations. A Sunlight Foundation study released this week showed Super Pacs had received $385.7m in donations as of Sunday 23 September.

"We're almost in this wild wild west period of campaign finance," Allison said.

"You have candidates raising money at $50,000 a pop for joint fundraising committees and party committees, you have Super Pacs taking in million-dollar contributions, you have Barack Obama doing some 200 fundraisers already – it's become this mad dash for cash."

"It's as if it's all the politicians care about. But the sad thing is that after the election is over all the people who gave that money are going to be coming round asking for favours."

© Guardian News and Media 2012