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New Analysis: Dark Money Groups Dominate Independent Spending in House Toss-Up Races

In competitive House races this year, the vast majority of independent spending is coming from dark money groups.

July 30, 2014

With months to go before Novembers election, the rise of independent spending in this years congressional contests has already been documented. A new analysis by the Brennan Center shows that in competitive House races, the vast majority of this spending is coming from dark money groups. We have also seen the rise of single-candidate super PACs in these contests.

“At this point in the midterm elections,” reads the analysis, “most primaries are over and the general election has yet to heat up. Even so, we found significant independent spending, most of it coming from dark money groups… It is clear that since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, outside spending from undisclosed sources has become an incredibly powerful force in American elections.”

The 13 House districts were determined as toss-up races by the Cook Political Report, while the data used in the analysis comes from the Federal Election Commission meaning that the spending totals almost certainly underestimate the magnitude of outside spending, since some ads are not required to be reported to the FEC. Some of the findings:

  • Across the 13 House districts in question, outside spending through June 30 totals $5.3 million. For every $4 of candidate spending, there was more than $1 of outside spending. In WV-03, independent spending was higher than candidate spending.
  • The great majority of total outside spending, 86 percent, came from dark money groups that keep some or all of their donors’ identities hidden. In seven of the districts, that figure was 98 percent or more.
  • Three of the races — in CA-52, NH-01, and NY-21, have seen significant spending from single-candidate super PACs, which allow donors who have already made the maximum legal contribution directly to their chosen candidate to continue their financial support. In each case these PACs’ spending is a significant portion of spending in the race.
  • Unreported spending, by groups that use “sham issue ads” to hide how much they spend and where by avoiding the phrases “vote for,” or “vote against,” is still impossible to effectively measure. Nonetheless, these groups’ public statements indicate they have already spent at least $2.7 million in AZ-01, AZ-02, FL-26, and WV-03.

Read the full analysis here.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Naren Daniel at (646)292–8381, or

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.