In 10 key Senate races this year, the spending power of the political network of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch rivals that of the Democratic and Republican parties, according to a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a new phenomenon that was not in evidence in 2014. These three interests combined account for more than half of all outside spending in these races, which is legally required to be independent of candidates.
And while some claimed unlimited outside spending permitted under Citizens United would allow more diverse voices into the political arena, the analysis shows that the biggest beneficiaries may be the traditional powers — the parties and their biggest donors. Both parties are increasingly outsourcing staff and spending to affiliated outside groups, or “shadow parties,” which unlike the official parties are free from contribution limits and can conceal their donors from the public.
“Interests flush with political power and financial resources are taking advantage of unregulated outside spending to monopolize funding of Senate elections,” said Ian Vandewalker, author of the analysis and counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “By outsourcing their finances to groups controlled by a handful of party operatives and million-dollar donors, the parties are effectively raising and spending money without being subject to some of the most important remaining campaign finance regulations.”
Among the findings:
- Shadow parties, free from campaign finance regulations designed to limit the influence of the biggest donors, are spending far more than official party committees. Democrats’ shadow party groups have spent more than $45 million, three times more than their official party committee, while Republican shadow party groups have spent more than $51 million, twice as much as their party committee, mostly through a dark money group that conceals its donors from the public.
- While super PACs are legally required to be independent of candidates, Democratic and Republican shadow party groups are run by former staffers of party leaders in the Senate, and leaders have actively steered donors to these groups.
- The Koch network has spent $42 million to help GOP candidates in these key Senate races, accounting for 13% of the outside spending total, behind only the Democratic official and shadow party ($66 million; 19%) and the Republican official and shadow party ($77 million; 24%). By comparison, in 2014, the highest spending group after the parties accounted for only 6% of all outside spending.
- The Koch network’s super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, had spent $29 million on top Senate races by the end of September — far more than the $18.3 million it spent on the top races in the entire 2014 cycle.
The Brennan Center will publish a follow-up analysis in coming days focusing on the data available for individual Senate races.
Read the full analysis, Election Spending 2016: Just Three Interests Dominate, Shadow Parties Continue to Rise.
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Money in Politics.
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.