Whose Money Will Decide Senate Races?

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Candidates spend a lot of money on their campaigns, but they are hardly the biggest spenders. Let’s take a look at whose money will really decide the 2014 elections.

Politically aligned nonprofits and super PACs have been extremely involved in this year’s competitive Senate race. These organizations throw money most noticeably into television ads, which and the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C., reports that nearly half of the ads run in a Senate race are paid for by super PACs and political nonprofits.

The most expensive race when it comes to outside spending has been North Carolina’s close Senate race — with Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan at 45.3% and Republican Thom Tillis at 43.7%. According to Federal Election Commission data on OpenSecrets.org, $95 million has been spent in North Carolina as of Oct. 25, and $67 million of that spending is from outside groups. The runner-up for outside spending is Colorado, with $57 million.

In general, both parties have powerful super PACs bankrolling election efforts. For the Democrats, the top two in the past month have been NextGen Climate Action and the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC run by supporters of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) NextGen Climate Action is the top fundraising super PAC in existence, raking in more than $76 million since its start in 2013, while the Senate Majority PAC has raised over $53 million, according to numbers submitted to the Federal Election Commission. Republican groups have brought in less money, with the three most successful ones totaling a combined $68 million. Those groups are the Karl Rove-assisted American Crossroads, the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund, and the Ending Spending Action Fund.

According to the New York Times, Democrats are outdoing Republicans in super PAC spending, with $8.7 million compared to Republican’s $709,000. However, many conservative nonprofits, which don’t disclose all their financial details or even their funders, have been active in this year’s elections. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “groups within the Koch brothers’ political network reportedly plan to spend as much as $290 million.”

Both parties’ groups are putting up an even fight, each spending enough to take up about 50% of television ads in the 12 most-competitive U.S. Senate races. According to the Center for Public Integrity, using data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, “Republicans and their allies were responsible for 50 percent of the roughly 633,000 Senate-focused TV ads that have so far aired in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire and South Dakota,” while Democrats claimed 48%.

Not to mention both parties have turned to digital campaigning (thought television ads remain the largest format), spending about $11 million on online marketing. Again, Republican and Democratic groups spent about the same amount. Here, NextGen Climate Action has spent more than $3.6 million on ads promoting Democratic candidates — including web videos and posts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit that supports Republicans, has spent more than $660,000, and American Crossroads has spent an additional $541,000.

Overall, super PACs are putting in the vast majority of money that’s reported, while nonprofit spending is not as public. Democrats are leading in super PAC spending, but conservative-aligned nonprofits are reportedly extremely well-financed. But for all of both sides’ efforts, controlling half of the television ads, the primary form of political advertising, voters are still seeing an even amount of representation from both parties on their televisions.

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