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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Outside Money Eclipses Inside Money?

At National Journal, Reid Wilson writes about the potential dominance of Super PACs:

To see just how little early fundraising actually matters, consider this cycle’s incumbents. By this point in 2005, McCaskill, then a challenger, had raised $681,000, while her Republican opponent, then-Sen. Jim Talent, had more than $4 million on hand. Jon Tester, then the president of the Montana Senate, had only $141,000 in the bank, a fraction of Sen. Conrad Burns’s $3 million war chest. And Democrat Jim Webb hadn’t even entered the race in Virginia against GOP Sen. George Allen.

Now that outside groups can spend unlimited amounts on independent advertising, candidate fundraising means even less. Last year in Colorado, when Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet first sought election after his 2009 appointment, he raised and spent $11.5 million while Republican Ken Buck raised and spent almost $5 million. Yet outside organizations dwarfed both candidates’ campaigns; Democratic groups spent $13.2 million on Bennet’s behalf and Republican groups spent more than $14 million for Buck.

In 2010, outside groups spent more than $10 million per state on Senate races in Nevada, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Washington, Illinois, Missouri, and California, according to data compiled by The Hotline and the Center for Responsive Politics. The average member spent $1.44 million to win his or her House seat; in 38 districts, outside groups spent more, according to the center’s data.

“You’re going to see candidates having a smaller voice in their own campaigns,” said Rob Collins, a Republican strategist who ran the American Action Network, which spent more than $20 million to influence federal elections in 2010, according to center data.

That’s not to say fundraising reports aren’t illuminating. Early fundraising success is indicative of candidates’ potential for attracting support within their districts, and outside groups use those gauges as a preliminary way to rank which districts are worth a closer look.

“I’m always interested in how much money a candidate raises in-district or in-state and how many donors contribute,” said Mike Duncan, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and head of American Crossroads, which spent almost $22 million last cycle. It’s a reflection of the depth of a candidate’s support, and candidates with strong local support and good direct-mail programs are difficult to defeat. The national fundraising often reflects how serious a candidate is being taken by major donors and creates momentum with national committees and organizations.”

Neither American Action Network nor American Crossroads existed before last cycle.