Washington (CNN) - They've become some of the most important players in campaign politics over the past four years, and brand new fundraising figures indicate that the influence of outside groups is not diminishing.
In fact, the numbers suggest that these organizations, which are free of many of the fundraising rules that keep checks on candidates and party committees, will have a major impact on the 2014 Senate, House and gubernatorial elections, which are shaping up to be the most expensive midterms ever.
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"There's no question that outside groups on both sides will once again be playing a significant role in our elections," says GOP strategist Brian Walsh, who steered communications for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the past two election cycles.
"Outside groups have become a dominate force in House and Senate elections, and there is no sign of them going away anytime soon," adds Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
Tuesday was the deadline for congressional campaigns, party committees and super PACs to report their fundraising totals from the first three months of year to the Federal Election Commission. And with less than seven months to go until Election Day, the latest numbers serve as a barometer of the influence outside groups will have in deciding the outcome of some crucial contests.
Campaign cash battle in crucial Senate contest
Exhibit A is American Crossroads, the pro-GOP super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove. The group reports it brought in more than $5 million not for the first quarter, but just in March alone. That's more than American Crossroads raised all of last year.
Crossroads spent heavily and was a major factor in the 2010 and 2012 races, but was extremely quiet in 2013, ceding the spotlight on the Republican side to Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
Exhibit B is the Senate Majority PAC, the leading outside group trying to help the Democrats keep control of the chamber. The group reported raising an eye popping $11.1 million in January, February, and March, bringing their total to nearly $20 million so far this cycle.
But with the Democrats playing a lot of defense in the 2014 battle for the Senate – the party is defending 21 of the 36 seats up for grabs in November, with half of those seats in red or purple states – the group has already spent nearly $9 million mostly to help out vulnerable Democrats.
Exhibit C is the House Majority PAC, the House version of the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC. The group recently announced that it raised a record $5.2 million during the first quarter. Add that to the more than $10 million the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – the official House Democratic re-election arm – reported Wednesday and you've got one impressive haul. But regardless of their recent riches, Democrats still need a net gain of 17 seats this November to win back control of the Republican-led House, a feat political handicappers say is unlikely in part due to the shrinking number of competitive congressional districts.
Key races to watch in 2014
Arguably the most important numbers are not included in the first quarter fundraising figures. They belong to the non-profit groups – mainly the IRS designated 501(c)(4) organizations – which don't have to disclose their donors and aren't required to file quarterly figures.
One of those groups is AFP, which is backed by the deep pockets of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. The organization has shelled out more than $30 million so far this election cycle to run ads – most of them focused on health care – that attack Democrats and praise Republicans in key Senate and House races.
One thing's for sure – the explosion in massive spending by outside groups has occurred in large part due to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that changed the rules and opened the floodgates. Four years later, the money continues to pour in, and it continues to make a major impact on the campaign trail.
"The money raised and spent by candidates is becoming a smaller and smaller fraction of the total spending in a race. In many races, outside groups will be driving the debate, not the candidates," says Gonzales.
But Gonzales adds that money isn't everything.
"I don't think the most competitive races in the country will be decided by money,” he said. “I think both sides will spend enough to get their message out in the top House and Senate races. Those races will be decided on the partisanship of the state or district, candidate quality, message and issues, and the political standing of President Obama.”
No. 1: Fred Eychaner, founder of Chicago-based alternative-newspaper publisher Newsweb Corp.
Total: $3.57 million
No. 2: James Simons, 74, New York philanthropist, investor and founder of Renaissance Technologies.
Total: $3.5 million
No. 3: Jeffrey Katzenberg, 61, Hollywood film producer and chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.
Total: $3.07 million
No. 4: Irwin Jacobs, 78, the founder and former chairman of Qualcomm.
Total: $2.122 million
No. 5: Jon Stryker, 54, a Michigan philanthropist.
Total: $2.066 million
All democrat/Obama supporters and contributors
The fact that you were able to state their NAMES (let alone the amount)made it pretty clear that they definitely were not Republican contributors.
ThinkAgain – Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.
To American Crossroads and all the other PACS – publish the names of your donors and the amounts they've contributed.
If you really have our nation's best interest at heart, we want this info so we can personally thank your contributors for their concern for our great nation.
as i said earlier....
the problem with that approach is that the criminal union thug leftist democrat party then targets people who contribute to their opponents. attacks, intimidation and threats follow. a perfect example of that was the ceo of mozilla. the democrat party are a bunch of animals waiting to destroy people that don't think the way they do. if is not the party of jfk anymore, it is the party of stalin.
and the post above proves my point. democrats and lefties are political terrorists looking to destroy people who do not think the way they do. we can call then the al quada progressives.
The article fails to mention the Billionaire ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to throw $50,000,000 to restrict the 2nd Amendment and impose his will. He's already said he's purchased his ticket into heaven "IF" God exists. Hedging his bet????
It is amazing when you interpret God's will with anything to do with firearms .
Rick Perry / Sarah Palin 2016
God gave us the Earth to Destroy ?
@Jim: "The article fails to mention the Billionaire ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to throw $50,000,000 to restrict the 2nd Amendment and impose his will. He's already said he's purchased his ticket into heaven "IF" God exists. Hedging his bet????"
So it's OK if gop/tea bag contributors hide their names and donation amounts but it's BAD, BAD, BAD if ex-Mayor Bloomberg puts his name on and pays for ads exercising his right to promote an issue he believes in?
How do you EVER figure out how to get dressed in the morning with such a non-functioning brain?
@california,pennies compared to those koch brothers and their American for prosperity committee and alderson.
The kochs around $50M and just adelson $100M. This doesn't count under the table donations I am sure.
Good try though considering they want the worst that can happen to our country.
The kochs wasted most of their money in MN, OH, NV and PA.
The rich are surely spoiled.
Can't wait to see Sheldon Adelson,Rupert Mourdoch,Rove,Grover Norquist and the GOP stuff Jeb Bush down the tea party's throats 2012 Mitt the twit style.
OK, CNN, way to go. I try to post a comment that blows just asking's post out of the water (because he/she/it is spewing lies again), but you won't moderate it.
Nutshell: just asking likes to say Liberals are thugs and cites Mozilla's CEO. I point out the hypocrisy of just asking's statement.
Have the stones to post my comments, CNN, have the stones ...
@California: The Koch brothers alone have eclipsed all the DEM donors combined. And, by the way, did you see what it got them. The % return on their money was horrible. Ditto for Karl Rove's groups....
I challenge you to find the Republican donors and list their donations...
NEWSFLASH, the US is NOT a democracy. It's turned into an oligarchy. The wishes of only the rich and powerful rule.
This study was conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities from 1981 to 2002. We all know it's gotten worse in the last 12 years!
Let's all raise a glass to the SCOTUS who don't believe in racism when it comes to voting rights or that elections are bought and paid by the rich.
i have a great idea. employers should be able to hire and fire based on political beliefs. if lefties can target people based on them, why can't companies fire people who vote against company interests? liberals will need to go out there and start their own liberals businesses so they can employ liberal workers (they exist?!). it will be a great opportunity for these liberals to walk the walk and pay all of their employees equally and a minimum of $25 an hour. they can provide fully paid for healthcare, and all other forms of freebies. come liberals, you can do it. see how easy it is. walk the walk!
NEWSFLASH, the US is NOT a democracy. It's turned into an oligarchy.
And posted by a person that is just dying to vote for the Clinton oligarchy! You people are real jokes...
Judging by the silence I guess 50 million is ok if he's on your side.
All "groups" are "outside groups". That is a naive viewpoint.
Dems have lots of outside revenue sources, and GOP has theirs. Neither discloses what they are really doing.
Thank you Supreme Court, you have destroyed our democracy. If the GOP gets in control of the government, we are finished.
Money, like performance enhancing drugs, doesn't guarentee a victory but it sure as heck increase the odds
Pretty funny to listen to the Democrats scream about money in politics and yet that is all Obama does. I would bet he has spent far more time campaigning and fund raising than he has spent doing the job he was elected to and is being paid to do. How about the Democrats refuse to accept the tens of millions of union money? If you want to get money out of politics then start there. Or are you afraid of alienating your puppet master?
"Judging by the silence I guess 50 million is ok if he's on your side."
Yawn. All the distinctions don't matter when you're desperate to try to arrive at a false positive for hypocrisy, eh?
"One thing's for sure – the explosion in massive spending by outside groups has occurred in large part due to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that changed the rules and opened the floodgates. Four years later, the money continues to pour in, and it continues to make a major impact on the campaign trail."
Yeah. Which makes America nothing more than the United Lobbyists of America.