Independent Outside Spending Grew at Significant Rate in 2014

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law just released a compilation of data relating to independent expenditures from the 2014 competitive senatorial campaigns. The compilation tells us some interesting facts about the scope of the outside group involvement, their impact upon the races (from an aggregate perspective), and whether Republicans or Democrats were the greater beneficiary from this campaign expenditure category.

The following are the Brennan Center’s tracked races – the ones the study conductors believed to be the 10 most competitive Senate races; Louisiana was excluded because a run-off appeared inevitable and no clear conclusion would be derived on Nov. 4 – providing totals for the independent money that was spent in each campaign.

The top indirect recipients of the independent outside spending (approximate figures) are as follows (winning candidates’ totals only):

• Thom Tillis (R-NC) – defeated Sen. Kay Hagan (D), 48-47% – $28 million
• Cory Gardner (R-CO) – defeated Sen. Mark Udall (D), 49-46% – $25 million
• Joni Ernst (R-IA) – defeated Rep. Bruce Braley (D), 52-44% – $23.5 million
• Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – def. Alison Grimes (D), 56-41% – $21.5 million
• Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) – def. Sen. Mark Pryor (D), 56-39% – $19 million
• Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) – def. Terri Lynn Land (R), 55-41% – $15 million
• David Perdue (R-GA) – def. Michelle Nunn (D), 53-45% – $13 million
• Dan Sullivan (R-AK) – def. Sen. Mark Begich (D), 48-46% – $13 million
• Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) – def. Greg Orman (I), 53-42% – $11 million
• Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – def. Scott Brown (R), 51-48% – $10 million

In actuality, the candidate receiving the most independent outside spending was Dan Sullivan in Alaska, since he drew $13 million in expenditures for a state equivalent in size to that of one congressional district. Because Iowa has only four CDs, Joni Ernst drew the second-best independent expenditure amount.

All totaled, it appears that approximately $342 million was spent on outside advocacy or issue education in the top 11 competitive Senate races (this time, including Louisiana). To put into context just how fast outside expenditures are growing, a 2012 grand total of $259 million was spent for all Senate races.

Additionally, there is not a great deal of separation between the parties in these top Senate campaigns, despite the media heavily concentrating on the outside expenditures that help Republicans.

Looking at the top 20 highest-spending outside donor groups, the aggregate 2014 election cycle total shows approximately $169.4 million supporting the most competitive Republican senatorial candidates (or attacking their Democratic opponents) versus an almost identical $167.4 million used to back Democratic senatorial candidates (or for attacking their Republican opponents). These figures do not include any support from the two political parties either in the form of positive reinforcement media expenditure, ground activities, or attacking a specific candidate in the other party.

Though the expenditure levels for independent political activity continue to reach new heights and are changing the way campaigns are run, is the independent activity race-defining or, since the expenditure level for both sides is virtually at parity, did the massive expenditures simply cancel each other out and leave little or no significant footprint upon the campaign’s outcome?

These are questions that, in order to answer, require much more study and research. The aggregate numbers, however, tell us that the outside political wars seem to have battled to a draw for effectively determining winners and losers.

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