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GOP Candidates Relying on Dark Money Infusions for Midterm Ad Blitz: Analysis

'It seems like presidential-year levels in some of these races,' says researcher.

The top outside spender thus far in the 2014 midterm elections is Crossroads GPS, which has spent nearly $4 million in key Senate races. (Photo: Light Brigading/cc/flickr)

Just a few weeks out from the November midterm elections, a new report revealed on Tuesday that over a quarter of the nearly $1 billion spent so far has been paid for by outside groups, the majority of which do not disclose their donors.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project analysis (pdf) of Kantar Media/CMAG data, the top three outside spenders—The Republican Governor's Association, Crossroads GPS, and the NRA Political Victory Fund—all largely back Republican candidates in upcoming congressional and gubernatorial races.

Crossroads GPS, a 501c4 started by conservative strategist Karl Rove, outspent all others, pouring $3.8 million into advertising for GOP candidates in key Senate races in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina.

The volume of advertisements favoring Democratic candidates slightly outnumbers those favoring Republicans. However, researchers note that because Republicans are "more reliant on outside groups," they must pay more for advertisements.

"Because Republicans are relying on outside groups to pay for their ads, they are not getting as much bang for the buck as Democrats," said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. As Franz explains, "Sixty days before an election, candidates are entitled to the lowest unit rate from television stations," however, that does not apply to Super PACs (Political Action Committee) and other outside funding groups.

"Still," Franz reasons, "because political science research suggests outside spending can be more persuasive than ads from candidates, this strategy may pay off for Republicans."


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Overall, spending has dropped when compared to the same two-week period during the 2010 midterm elections, with the only notable exception being pro-Democratic advertising for Senate candidates, which is up over 34 percent.

According to the analysis:

Since the start of the 2013-14 election cycle, $337 million has been spent to air 728,000 ads in Senate races. Spending on gubernatorial races has been even higher, at $426 million, which has purchased just over 700,000 ads. Another $154 million has been spent on House races. All told, across Senate, House and gubernatorial races, spending this election cycle is over $917 million.        

"Ad spending this election cycle will easily break the $1 billion mark in the next week or two," said Wesleyan Media Project co-director Travis Ridout. "We also expect to see at least 2 million ad airings in House, Senate and gubernatorial races by Election Day."

"It seems like presidential-year levels in some of these races," Ridout added.

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