New Analysis: Outside Spending in 2016’s Top Senate Races is Higher, More Concentrated, and More Secret

August 31, 2016

“Shadow party” groups, outside spenders with close ties to the Senate leadership of each party, including Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, have already spent $47 million in 2016’s closest U.S. Senate races, according to a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Unlike the money that goes through official party committees, these shadow parties can conceal the source of their funding from the public, and are not subject to contribution limits, threatening to make parties more dependent on megadonors, corporations, and unions.

The report measured outside spending so far in the eight Senate races listed as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Its other findings include:

  • Spending is concentrated among a few interests: Three major spending coalitions — the Democratic Party’s shadow groups, the Koch Brothers’ network, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have accounted for 58 percent of all reported outside spending across the eight races.
     
  • Single-candidate groups overshadowed: The continued growth of shadow parties and the Koch network may be slowing the rise of the single-candidate outside groups that played a major role in 2014’s races. Their share of non-party outside spending is down from 21 percent to 12 percent.
     
  • ‘Trump effect’ not in evidence: There is little evidence that Trump’s nomination is diverting large amounts of money away from the presidential race and into Senate races, despite reports to the contrary.
     
  • Secret money boom continues: Secret spending, by groups that conceal their donors from the public, remains on the rise. It has already reached at least $55.4 million. Republicans hold a major advantage in reported dark-money spending so far.

“Outside spending in Senate elections is on track to shatter last cycle’s records,” said analysis author and Brennan Center counsel Ian Vandewalker. “More importantly, the increasing concentration of spending among a few players, the ease of circumventing contribution limits and concealing donors from the public, and the danger of collaboration between candidates and ‘outside’ groups, indicate that voters are right to see effective campaign finance reform as one of America’s biggest — and most necessary — challenges today.”

Read the full analysis, Election Spending 2016: Eight Toss-Up Senate Races.

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 naren.daniel@nyu.edu.