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New Report: Outside Spending, Dark Money from Wealthy Few Booming Post-'Citizens United’

A new report reveals the impact the Citizens United decision had on campaign finance and details key trends in spending.

January 14, 2015

Outside spending in competitive Senate races has exploded since 2010’s Citizens United decision, and a new analysis from the Brennan Center reveals three key trends: a major increase in the influence of a few wealthy donors, the proliferation of dark money spending that conceals the identity of donors, and significant growth in single-candidate super PACs that circumvent contribution limits. Among the report’s findings:

  • Since 2010, outside spending on Senate elections has more than doubled: from $220 million that year to $486 million in 2014.
  • Toss-up races are a money magnet: 90 percent of Senate spending was concentrated in the 11 races polls projected as most competitive.  In those races, outside groups accounted for more spending (47 percent) than the candidates themselves (41 percent).
  • Super PACs are funded by an exclusive few: Of the 10 highest spending super PACs in competitive Senate races, all but two received less than 1 percent of their contributions from small donors. Across all federal elections since Citizens United, just 195 individuals and their spouses have given almost 60 percent of the $1 billion spent by super PACs.
  • Dark money has more than doubled since 2010: from $105 million to $226 million in 2014. $485 million of the $1 billion outside spenders plowed into the last three Senate cycles, or nearly half, was dark money. The winners in the 11 most competitive 2014 Senate races had more than $131 million in dark money supporting them —71 percent of total nonparty outside spending in their favor.
  • Single-candidate groups are on the rise: 2014’s 11 competitive Senate races saw 16 candidate-specific groups spend more than $1 million each, more than double the number in 2012. These groups depend heavily on donors who have given the up to legal limit directly to their chosen candidate.

“The post-Citizens United numbers paint a daunting picture: Outside money driven mostly by a few wealthy donors now surpasses even spending by candidates themselves in tight races, giving those donors a level of election influence unprecedented in modern American history,” said report author Ian Vandewalker. “At the same time, the rise of dark-money and single-candidate groups threaten two longstanding cornerstones of money in politics regulation, transparency and contribution limits. Congress, the president, and federal agencies all should seize opportunities to make reforms improving transparency and boosting the power of small donors.”

Click here to read the full report, Election Spending 2014: Outside Spending in Senate Races Since Citizens United.

The report will be highlighted at an event today at New York University’s Washington offices, hosted by eight national pro-democracy organizations coming together to release independent research on the role of money in post-Citizens United elections. Click here for information and to watch a livestream of the event.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (917) 673–0333 or