Big bucks an indicator of outside groups’ influence
April 16th, 2014
12:34 PM ET
5 months ago

Big bucks an indicator of outside groups’ influence

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.

"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.”


Filed under: 2014 • Campaign finance • Fundraising
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    --this is not new, it is ISRAEL as usual. Pathetic idiots, selling out this big beautiful nation to foreign lands for GREED, MONEY. God only bless it.

    April 16, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Winston Smith

    Some other person once made the comment: We've got the finest government, money can buy. It was true then and it's true today.

    April 16, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "The organization has shelled out more than $30 million so far this election cycle to run ads – most of them focused on health care..."

    ...and subsequently found to be completely untrue and full of misinformation.

    FIFY

    April 16, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Silence DoGood

    @Sniffit
    "The organization has shelled out more than $30 million so far this election cycle to run ads – most of them focused on health care..."

    ...and subsequently found to be completely untrue and full of misinformation.

    FIFY
    ------------
    Beyond this, money was being used to sabotage the ACA specifically setting up phony web sites and attempting to stop young people from signing up. Lying is one thing but sabotage should be criminal. At what point does someone prosecute the Koch bros. and others?

    April 16, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Michael MN

    Weak minded voters are easliy influenced , I know people that vote to cut there own throats because what they heard on some add paid for by who know who

    April 16, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Gurgyl

    –this is not new, it is ISRAEL as usual. Pathetic idiots, selling out this big beautiful nation to foreign lands for GREED, MONEY. God only bless it.
    -------
    Israel? Do tell.

    April 16, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  7. Lynda/Minnesota

    Dominican mama 4 Obama
    Lynda Minnesota
    Don't bail on me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Waaah!!!!!! :(
    --------------–

    Well, certainly not today ... it's snowing again. But, hey. It has been 6 years and quite frankly I'm getting burned out on the foolishness of it all: trying to get comments to post; reading through the idiocy; oh! a whole slew of nonsense comes to mind.

    Mostly though my previous comment to you brought home to me just how deranged the other side has become in their manic obsession of tying everything into politics.

    I'm just not into the constant battle of politics taking hold of my entire life to the extent that it did.

    April 16, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  8. MaryM

    Congrats Americans. Your politicians, you elect, are now owned by the highest bidder thanks to the Citizens United ruling.

    April 16, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  9. Steve, New York City

    Amazing - and spending from these outside groups is "free speech?" What a joke.

    Imagine what this money could do to create American jobs, instead of being used to pay to influence members of both parties. The supreme court's recent decision to treat these donations as free speech was the nail in the coffin.

    April 16, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  10. Gunderson

    To all my Half-Wit Buddies on here,
    As long as the Federal Government Congress votes on puts in place programs that affect all the citizens in the U.S. everyone has a right to place ads for their point of view. You want to get outside money out of politics get the Federal Government out of the business of collecting and disbursing money. Return all Social Programs to the States where "Outside Money" will disappear. Until that time, live with it.

    April 16, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. 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.

    April 16, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Lynda Minnesota
    Mostly though my previous comment to you brought home to me just how deranged the other side has become in their manic obsession of tying everything into politics.

    I'm just not into the constant battle of politics taking hold of my entire life to the extent that it did
    -------------------------------------------------
    Wow. Please get out of my head, especially in regards to your last sentence.
    I am going to miss you dearly my friend.
    You are what I remember Republicans used to be: sensible patriots willing to at least listen to the other side.
    But you're right...we were here fighting with a purpose. We've accomplished our mission to a certain extent (wink!).
    Look at our unlikely friendship on this site based on our backgrounds....perhaps we've accomplished more than we thought.
    God bless you Lynda.

    April 16, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Gunderson: "To all my Half-Wit Buddies on here"

    We are waiting for your refund check for all the SS, Medicare, and other social services you and your family have used. And if you really hate the government being involved with this kind of spending, then please move your bum pronto to Somalia or some place similar where you won't have that pesky government to "infringe" on your "rights."

    April 16, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. O'drama ya Mama

    Donors who support the GOP plan to deregulate business because they claim it prevents hiring are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns instead of using that money to create jobs they claim they cant afford to make.

    April 16, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Lynda/Minnesota: Sounds like you just need a break, Hon. I'm hoping you will continue to post, as tiring as it may be. The RWNJs are counting on good folks like you leaving the debate, just like they do their best to persuade Dem voters to stay at home on election day. The right has nothing to offer us, so they hope folks will just sit things out.

    Here's to sunny skies for you!

    April 16, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. rla

    Folks– typical anti- Israel comments (note it was a liberal who inspired the last shooter, ) How about trusting the people to figure this out and pressure the people in congress to serve them and not their parties. Money only talks in the depths of congress on both sides when ear marks are added and legislation is passed with no one reading it! These congressional leaders and their minions are a disgrace- Note there are 40 jobs bills tied up in the senate by Reid

    April 16, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  17. CALIFORNIA

    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.

    April 16, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  18. CALIFORNIA

    My source is the Associated Press.

    April 16, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  19. Thomas

    @Gunderson
    To all my Half-Wit Buddies on here,
    As long as the Federal Government Congress votes on puts in place programs that affect all the citizens in the U.S. everyone has a right to place ads for their point of view. You want to get outside money out of politics get the Federal Government out of the business of collecting and disbursing money. Return all Social Programs to the States where "Outside Money" will disappear. Until that time, live with it.
    ============
    Return all Social Programs to the States where "Outside Money" will disappear ?
    Are you saying corruption stops at the state level ?

    Are you and Donna the same guy ?

    April 16, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  20. Dean

    Alex Sink (D) spent three times more money than David Jolly (R) in the FL-13 Senate race. But her positions on Obamacare and illeagal immigration resulted in a Republican victory. It's the message, not the money.

    April 16, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "Note there are 40 jobs bills tied up in the senate by Reid"

    Except they are not really jobs bills and are just ideological wish lists from the GOP, packed with crap they know is complete and utter non-starters and poison pills.

    April 16, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. CALIFORNIA

    Reid will love the Senate come next year when his nuclear option will go against him and his party.

    April 16, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. Rick McDaniel

    The biggest bucks go to the Dems..........in spite of the fact they like to claim the Republicans have all the money.

    April 16, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Rick McDaniel: "The biggest bucks go to the Dems..........in spite of the fact they like to claim the Republicans have all the money."

    Cite your source. Here's what mine (Open Secrets) says:

    2012 Presidential election, overall spending: Dems = $1,107,114,464, repubs = $1,238,097,161

    April 16, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  25. 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????

    April 16, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
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