Dark money plays prominent role in 2014 election cycle

Nearly one quarter of the spending done so far by outside groups in the 2014 election cycle has been done by non-profit organizations that don’t disclose their donors. This so-called “dark money” accounted for $30 million of the $122 million spent by non-profit organizations outside of spending done by candidates or political parties, according to a recent article by The Sunlight Foundation, an open government advocacy organization.

Examples of “dark money” groups — ones that don’t have to disclose their donors — would be the Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $11.5 million, mostly supporting Republicans, and Patriot Majority USA, which has spent $4.7 million opposing them.

To demonstrate the growing influence of money from outside groups, there have been eight races so far this year where outside groups spent more than the candidates themselves.

Those include the competitive Republican Senate primary in Mississippi where more than $11 million was spent by outside groups, which is twice as much as the candidates spent during the race.

Outside groups have also outspent candidates in the Michigan and North Carolina Senate races. In Michigan, more than half of the outside spending has opposed Republican Terri Lynn Land. In North Carolina, most of the outside money centered on Republican Thom Tillis with $2.5 million spent supporting the former Speaker of the House in North Carolina and $6 million opposing him.

But, as The Sunlight Foundation notes:

These totals don't include nonprofit groups who have run electioneering ads slamming candidates more than 30 days before a primary election. Through the end of March, Americans For Prosperity spent more than $7 million attacking Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), none of which was reported to the FEC.

Senate Majority PAC, a liberal super PAC, has been the biggest outside spender in this election cycle. The political action committee has spent $16.8 million, most of it opposing Republican Senate candidates with television and radio ads. Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money, but must report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or quarterly basis, according to OpenSecrets.org.

There has also been a rise in spending among anti-establishment conservative groups, such as the super PAC Club for Growth Action, according to The Sunlight Foundation.

Internal strife in the Republican party has been driving national attention — and outside dollars — to GOP primaries across the country. These heated primaries, combined with a raft of competitive general elections, have combined to account for an eye-popping amount of third party spending.

But, all of this outside spending doesn’t necessarily translate into a victory on election night:

Conservative hopefuls like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Chris McDaniel of Mississippi and and T.W. Shannon in Oklahoma all attracted outside dollars in droves, but these efforts all failed to translate to primary victories against well-funded incumbents.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or eholmberg@publicsource.org.