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New Analysis: Winning Senate Candidates Received Immense ‘Dark Money’ Support

The Brennan Center’s new post-election analysis reveals that winning candidates in 2014’s competitive Senate races were overwhelmingly backed by “dark money” groups.

November 10, 2014

Winning candidates in 2014’s competitive Senate races were overwhelmingly backed by “dark money” groups that conceal their donors, according to a new post-election analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The analysis found that dark money played a record role in the Republican takeover of the Senate, making up as much as 89 percent of individual candidates’ nonparty outside support. Among the findings:

  • In the 11 most competitive Senate races, there was $342 million in nonparty outside spending; parties spent an additional $89 million. In 2012, nonparty outside spending totaled $259 million for all 33 contests.
  • $203 million of that 2014 total came from “dark money” groups. 71 percent of nonparty outside spending supporting the 10 winning candidates (excluding La., where there will be a runoff election) came from dark money groups. Several winning candidates received immense support from dark money groups. It made up 89 percent of nonparty outside spending favoring Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), 86 percent for David Perdue (R-Ga.), 85 percent for Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and 81 percent for Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
  • Outside spending is ruled by a few wealthy donors; small donations are not a meaningful source of their money. Four of the five highest spending super PACs received less than one-tenth of one percent of their contributions from donations of $200 or less. The fifth received only slightly more. The top-spending super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, had an average contribution of $170,525; the second-highest, Ending Spending, had an average contribution of over $500,000.

“It now seems each election is a new opportunity to break outside spending records, and 2014 did not disappoint,” said report author Ian Vandewalker. “Hundreds of millions of dollars from dark money groups helped bring a new Senate into power. Many of the victors will likely take their seats in 2015 feeling grateful to special interests hidden from their constituents and the public.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646)292–8381 or naren.daniel@edu.

Read the full analysis, Outside Spending and Dark Money in Toss-Up Senate Races: Post-Election Update.

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

This Brennan Center analysis is part of #Money14, a series of independent reports exposing the role of money in American politics. Join us for an event around the fifth anniversary of Citizens United to hear more about the participating organizations’ innovative research and work together for a more inclusive, transparent, and participatory democracy.