Campaigns Get Millions in Outsider Cash10/18 06:37
It's been eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared that political
spending is free speech. The decision eased the way for corporations, unions or
nonprofits to spend massive amounts to support, or more often, denounce
candidates in tight races.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- It's been eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court
declared that political spending is free speech. The decision eased the way for
corporations, unions or nonprofits to spend massive amounts to support, or more
often, denounce candidates in tight races.
Citizens United, as the ruling is commonly known, has transformed American
political campaigns, most notably over the airways.
But the flood of cash also pays for an army of field offices, canvassers,
data miners and even good-old-fashioned opposition researchers, in a system
designed to influence voters around the country.
Today, a considerable portion of campaign activity voters see is paid for by
donors who live elsewhere and, in many cases, contribute to some kind of
political committee. Some of those committees must disclose where their money
comes from; but others, the so-called dark money groups, don't have to identify
their sources of income.
Certainly candidates are raising plenty of money, but they are subject to
comparatively low donor limits. A single donor can give a single federal
candidate no more than $2,700 in each round of an election cycle (the primary,
any primary runoff and the general election). Party committees have much higher
Democrats' enthusiasm this cycle has used that system to propel more than
100 House candidates to fundraising advantages over their rival GOP incumbents.
But Republicans are more than making up for any gap through super PACs. The
Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, for example, has raised more than $126
million, including huge checks from GOP megadonors like casino magnate Sheldon
Adelson and his wife, Miriam. They each gave the fund $12.5 million this
spring. To be clear, there are liberal megadonors, as well. Billionaire
environmentalist Tom Steyer is spending tens of millions of dollars through one
PAC that's pushing for Trump's impeachment and another that's trying to drive
up millennial turnout.
The result of this financial flood is a cacophony of messaging on the
airwaves and in digital advertising that voters must navigate in the closing
weeks of the campaign.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press reporters are on the ground around the
country, covering political issues, people and races from places they live. The
Ground Game series highlights that reporting, looking at politics from the
ground up. Each week, in stories and a new podcast , AP reporters examine the
political trends that will drive the national conversation tomorrow.
WHY IT MATTERS
Everyone complains about big-money campaigns --- particularly outside money
--- and the negative advertising that follows as a result. But campaigns and
outside groups keep using them for one reason: They work.
And as digital advertising and data analyses of voter tendencies gets more
and more sophisticated, political organizations are dedicating more and more
money to those efforts. Quite often, that process starts before candidates' own
fundraising gets off the ground.
For example, independent groups like Republicans' Congressional Leadership
Fund and Steyer's NextGen America sometimes set up shop in a district or state
long before general election campaigns.
WHAT TO WATCH
A good example comes in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, a
Republican-leaning district where Democrats are making a strong push.
Republican Rep. Andy Barr easily won his third term two years ago, but the
district has alternated between the two major political parties five times
since 1978, and Democrats have long seen Barr as an inviting target.
GOP players in Washington fought to back their candidate, with Barr's
district drawing early investments from CLF, the GOP super PAC working to
defend Republicans' imperiled House majority.
CLF has reserved more than $2.6 million in television air time in the
district, including at least $940,000 in television advertising spent to
criticize his Democratic opponent, former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath.
Barr also has benefited from National Republican Congressional Committee
spending and ad buys from the American Bankers Association and the National
Association of Realtors.
Democratic PACs have answered, even if in smaller amounts.
For her part, McGrath has been a fundraising juggernaut. Her $6 million-plus
haul is a staggering sum for a House race. Barr has raised $4 million, but has
been far more dependent on PACs (more outside money).
To be clear, lots of McGrath's money has come from individual donors from
outside the Kentucky district. But that kind of outside money flows directly to
the candidate, who then decides how to spend it, as opposed to the third-party
spending that neither candidate controls.
Spending on her behalf has meant that McGrath has had no trouble keeping her
pledge not to run attack ads. She can leave the attacks on Barr to the
independent spenders like the House Majority PAC, which is Democrats' counter
Whatever the results on Nov. 6, there will be plenty of crowing from the
outside groups that invested heavily to shape the Congress they want. CLF's
overall spending could top $150 million. The House Majority PAC could reach
about $60 million. The various official party committees will add several
hundred million more to the House and Senate ledgers.
Of course, the losers aren't likely to take the blame. For them, the voters
will have decided.