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New Report: Outside Spending, Dark Money Playing Record Role in Battle for Senate Majority

Outside spending is playing an unprecedentedly large role in the nine races most likely to determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, and a record amount of this money comes from “dark money” groups that conceal their donors and single-candidate groups.

October 21, 2014

Outside spend­ing is play­ing an unpre­ced­en­tedly large role in the nine races most likely to determ­ine which party controls the U.S. Senate, accord­ing to a new report released today by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. A record amount of this money comes from “dark money” groups that conceal their donors and single-candid­ate groups, two new trends made possible by weak regu­la­tion and decisions like Citizens United.

The Center will host an elec­tion brief­ing call today at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the report’s find­ings and how big outside spend­ing and new voting changes could impact the 2014 elec­tion.

The report, Elec­tion Spend­ing 2014: 9 Toss-Up Senate Races, found several import­ant new trends point­ing to the evolving and expand­ing role of big money in Amer­ican elec­tions, includ­ing:

  • New highs in total outside spend­ing. It is highly likely that all races but Louisi­ana’s will match or exceed the previ­ous record high for spend­ing in a Senate race. Less than half the expendit­ures so far have come from candid­ates them­selves.
  • A precip­it­ous rise in dark money groups, which have accoun­ted for 56 percent of all nonparty outside spend­ing. Pro-Repub­lican outside spend­ing is far more likely to be undis­closed (80 percent) than pro-Demo­crat spend­ing (32 percent).
  • A similar rise in single-candid­ate groups, which were active in all nine states and accoun­ted for high percent­ages of spend­ing in Alaska, Kentucky, and Geor­gia — again, this spend­ing favors Repub­lican candid­ates by more than 2-to-1.
  • The report also provides policy recom­mend­a­tions to close loop­holes that allow the rising power of dark money spend­ing and outside groups, includ­ing passing the DISCLOSE Act of 2014, new IRS and SEC rules on polit­ical activ­ity by nonprofits and corpor­a­tions, and more.

“Outside spend­ing of all kinds is at record levels ahead of the 2014 elec­tion,” said report author Ian Vandewalker. “Most glar­ingly, weak campaign finance laws and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have made possible new means of pump­ing money into elec­tions while avoid­ing regu­la­tion or scru­tiny. These tactics are gradu­ally becom­ing the national norm, and give wealthy spend­ers more power than ever to buy influ­ence over our polit­ical process and elec­ted offi­cials.”

Ian Vandewalker and money in polit­ics expert Lawrence Norden will discuss how these find­ings will impact the 2014 elec­tion on the 1 p.m. phone brief­ing. Voting rights expert Wendy Weiser and redis­trict­ing expert Michael Li will also be on the call to explain the implic­a­tions of new voting rules and legal battles across the coun­try and provide an update on redis­trict­ing fights.

To RSVP, or for more inform­a­tion about the report, contact Naren Daniel at naren.daniel@nyu.edu or 646–292–8381.

Click here to read the full report, Elec­tion Spend­ing 2014: 9 Toss-Up Senate Races.

See all of the Bren­nan Center’s Elec­tion 2014 resources.