Senate Campaign 2014: Brought to You by 'Dark Money' like Never Before

By Trumbull, Mark | The Christian Science Monitor, September 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Senate Campaign 2014: Brought to You by 'Dark Money' like Never Before


Trumbull, Mark, The Christian Science Monitor


As the campaign sprint for control of Congress heats up, a major share of the ad spending is coming from untraceable sources - people or corporations that want to influence the election anonymously.

So far this campaign cycle, some $51.3 million has already been spent by such "dark money" sources on campaign-related efforts - notably on TV ads tied to races that could determine which political party controls the US Senate for the next two years.

That's more than was spent by dark money groups at this point in the 2012 campaign cycle - even though that one included a campaign for president as well as one for Congress.

And it's about eight times the dark money amount seen by this time in the last "midterm" cycle - when only control of Congress was at stake in federal elections. All these numbers come from the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks election spending using data filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

And the big rush is still to come.

"Dark money spending in the 2014 midterms will easily match or surpass the spending records set in the last presidential elections," predicts Robert Maguire, a campaign-finance researcher at the center.

By the time the congressional race comes to a close on Nov. 4, the money from undisclosed sources could surge to double the roughly $300 million seen in 2012, or more, Mr. Maguire writes in a new analysis of the trends.

This comes as fundraising directly by political candidates looks relatively flat compared with past election cycles.

The rise of donors who choose to hide their identity is a sign that parallels the broader rise of "outside money," campaign advertising efforts that are created by interested groups distinct from the candidates and political parties.

The role of such independent money is controversial, because many Americans worry about undue influence by a relatively few wealthy people on the nation's political discourse and outcomes. It's also firing up critics because Supreme Court rulings since 2010 allow unlimited amounts of such money to flow to outside groups - whereas donations to the candidates have caps set by federal law.

Both conservatives and liberals are active in the dark money efforts.

On the conservative side, the group Americans for Prosperity, part of a network backed by the billionaire Koch Brothers, has stepped up its activity compared with past election cycles. And on the liberal side, the union-backed Patriot Majority has reported as much spending in 2014 as in all of the 2012 cycle. …

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