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

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.