The Top Ten Dark Money Down-Ballot Races

Conservative dark money groups have poured more than $55 million so far into U.S. House and Senate elections this cycle, according to an analysis by Dark Money Watch and MapLight.

Liberal dark money organizations have spent over $19 million, the analysis found.

Most of the $80 million in spending reported by more than 90 dark money groups across the political spectrum has gone to races that could determine which party controls the Senate.

But the reported spending likely doesn’t include all of the expenditures made by those organizations. Dark money groups — politically active nonprofits and limited liability corporations — do not have to publicly disclose their donors and do not have report all of their political spending to the Federal Election Commission. By law, these organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money on ads, mailers, and other materials advocating for or opposing a candidate or issue — as long as the expenditures are made independently of campaigns.

The vast majority of dark money spending in this election cycle has come from a handful of politically active nonprofits. The top three biggest spenders so far — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Americans for Prosperity, a conservative dark money organization supported by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch; and the National Rifle Association — account for more than half of all reported dark money spending on House and Senate elections.

Below are the ten Congressional races where dark money groups are spending the most this cycle, according to the analysis.

  1. Pennsylvania Senate – $14.9 million

The too-close-to-call contest between incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, is now the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history, according to CNBC. It’s also one of six battles that could determine whether the GOP maintains its majority in the Senate.

The Chamber has spent $5.1 million in support of Toomey’s re-election bid, while Americans For Prosperity has spent $1.5 million.

The dark money groups boosting McGinty’s campaign include Majority Forward, which has spent $2.5 million on ads critical of Toomey, the Environmental Defense Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters, which have spent more than $2.4 million combined.

  1. Ohio Senate – $11.3 million

Liberal and conservative dark money groups have been moving some of their resources elsewhere, now that Republican incumbent Rob Portman has a sizable lead in polls over his Democratic rival, Ted Strickland. But when the race was considered close, the organizations pumped millions into the Buckeye state.

The Chamber and Americans for Prosperity spent $4.6 million and $2.3 million respectively to boost Portman’s campaign.

Working America, Stand up for Ohio, the SEIU, the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters put in a combined $1.3 million to aid Strickland’s bid.

  1. Florida Senate – $9.9 million

While polls show a tight race between the Republican incumbent, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, the dark money spending has overwhelmingly favored Rubio.

American Future Fund has spent $2.6 million on ads critical of Murphy. The organization also spent millions attacking Rubio’s primary opponents during his unsuccessful presidential bid. Americans for Prosperity has spent $2.1 million supporting Rubio, the NRA has spent $1.7 million, and the Chamber has spent $1.5 million.

Much of this spending has gone to ads criticizing Murphy or advocating for Rubio. One ad paid for by the Chamber highlighted news reports questioning Murphy’s resume.

The dark money groups supporting Murphy — AFT Solidarity, America’s Voice, People for the American Way and Working America — have spent about $915,000.

  1. Nevada Senate – $8.9 million

With Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid retiring, dark money groups have spent millions on the battle to replace him. Polls show that the race between Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Joe Heck is a dead heat.

The Chamber has spent $3.6 million and the NRA almost $1.5 million to support Heck. Americans for Prosperity has reported spending $270,706 and has put resources into a ground campaign advocating for Heck.

Cortez Masto’s bid has received support from three dark money organizations: Majority Forward, which is affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC and has spent more than $251,000; the League of Conservation Voters, which has spent nearly $980,000; and the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which has spent more than $400,000.

  1. Indiana Senate – $5.7 million

Most of the dark money in this race is aimed at defeating Democrat Evan Bayh, who is running for a seat he last held in 2011, when he retired from the Senate.

Although Bayh became an adviser to the Chamber when he left office, his former employer (as of June) has spent more than $2.5 million aimed at helping his rival, Republican Rep. Todd Young. The Chamber’s political director told the Indianapolis Star the group decided to oppose Bayh because “his voting record is reflexively liberal when it matters most.”

In addition to the Chamber, the NRA has spent $1.9 million and Americans for Prosperity has spent almost $1 million to stop Bayh from reclaiming his Senate seat.

  1. North Carolina Senate – $4.7 million

Dark money has been streaming into the Tar Heel state in the final weeks of the election, with most of it aimed at helping the incumbent Republican Richard Burr, who, polls show, has a slim lead over former Democrat Deborah Ross.

Since Sept. 27, the NRA has pumped over $1.9 million into the race, spending big on television advertisements and mailers to oppose Ross. Americans for Prosperity and One Nation, a dark money group linked to GOP strategist Karl Rove, together have spent nearly $1.3 million against Ross.

Ross, meanwhile, has benefited from a significant investment by labor. The AFL-CIO has reported spending over $900,000 against Burr.

  1. Missouri Senate – $4.0 million

As the race between Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Secretary of State Jason Kander has tightened, dark money has poured in from liberal and conservative groups.

Blunt’s re-election bid has received support from Americans for Prosperity, which has spent $725,000; the NRA and One Nation, which have each spent about $480,000; and the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of chemical companies and has spent nearly $292,000. Most of that money has gone to ads and mailers attacking Kander.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has spent over $1 million, and Majority Forward has spent about $829,000 on ads attacking Blunt.

  1. New Hampshire Senate – $3.3 million

Republican Kelly Ayotte’s support of Donald Trump could determine the outcome of this hotly contested race. The incumbent Ayotte, who called Trump a “role model,” before saying she had made “a mistake,” is running against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The dark money groups boosting Ayotte’s re-election bid include the Chamber, which has spent $1.9 million, and One Nation, which has spent over $700,000. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative group that has received funding from nonprofit groups traditionally associated with Democrats, has spent over $450,000. The organization released an ad this summer calling Ayotte a leader who will “protect the legacy of this environment.”

Hassan’s campaign has received outside support from gun safety and reproductive rights advocates. The National Abortion Rights Action League has spent more than $103,000, and Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by Michael Bloomberg, has spent about $27,500.

  1. Nevada Congressional District 3 – $2.0 million

The Republican primary race for the congressional seat being vacated by Heck saw a torrent of dark money spending in support of state Sen. Michael Roberson’s failed bid.

A group called Ending Spending poured more than $1.6 million into the race, running ads backing Roberson and bashing his opponents, including the eventual primary winner, Danny Tarkanian. Ending Spending doesn’t disclose its donors, but it is associated with Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire who founded AmeriTrade.

Main Street Advocacy, a group that supports moderate Republicans, chipped in $250,000 to boost Roberson’s bid.

Dark money does not appear to be a factor in the general election, where Tarkanian is running against Democrat Jacky Rosen.

  1. Wisconsin Senate – $1.9 million

Republican Ron Johnson upset Democrat Russ Feingold in 2010, part of the Tea Party wave that swept through Congress. Now Feingold is trying to recapture his Senate seat, and polls show him in the lead.

The Chamber has spent $750,300 to help keep Wisconsin red, while the NRA has spent almost $269,000 and Americans for Prosperity, which backed Johnson in 2010, has spent almost $200,000.

Feingold’s bid has received support from the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which has spent more than $468,000; J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, which has spent $125,000; and Everytown for Gun Safety, the Bloomberg-backed gun control group, which has spent $20,000.

 

Methodology: MapLight analysis of data on electioneering communications, independent expenditures by organizations, and communication costs in 2016 election cycle available from the Federal Election Commission as of October 19, 2016. Organizations’ ideological views are from the Center for Responsive Politics. Expenditures opposing one of two candidates in a race is assumed to support the opposing candidate.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

Dark money represents thirty percent — or $565,000 — of the $1.9 million spent so far by outside groups on Arizona’s elections, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. Another 45 percent of the money spent by groups other than candidates cannot be traced back to its original source. The Center says this so-called “gray money” often comes from corporations that fund independent expenditure committees, which then report the income as a business contribution. According to the Center, SolarCity provided all of the funding for one group, Save Our AZ Solar. The outside spending group then used some of that money to advocate for the re-election of Bob Burns to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s public utilities. Burns is currently investigating whether Arizona’s largest power supplier used dark money groups to influence the elections of two other commissioners.

Americans For Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, is mobilizing a grassroots campaign in North Carolina to support Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, Buzzfeed reports. The group is concerned that a lack of field organization on the part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign may be hurting down-ballot candidates. AFP will go door-to-door to talk to voters, make calls and send out mailers targeting Burr’s Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross.

A former Republican state legislator in Montana has agreed to settle charges that he took illegal campaign contributions from a dark money group during a 2010 election, the Montana Standard reports. Dan Kennedy is one of nine candidates sued by the state’s Commissioner of Political Practices for violating campaign finance laws by accepting illegal contributions from corporate groups. Those groups were affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, an anti-union 501(c)(4) organization. Kennedy has agreed to pay $19,599 to settle the charges.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is urging Californians to vote against Proposition 59, a ballot measure that would encourage the state’s elected officials to use “all of their constitutional authority” to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The high court’s ruling, issued in 2010, allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as that spending is independent of candidate campaigns. The Times’ editorial board argues that “simple legislation,” rather than a constitutional amendment proposed in Prop. 59, could address “many of the evils for which [the ruling] has become a metaphor.” The board is also concerned that the advisory measure is too vague and doesn’t specify what a proposed amendment would say.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

A federal judge has determined that the conservative nonprofit group Citizens United must disclose information about its donors, or stop soliciting funds in New York, Reuters reports. The group had sued to stop New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from enforcing rules requiring it disclose its donors, citing its first amendment rights. However, U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found no evidence that donors would face public backlash or financial harm if donors were disclosed, and therefore ruled the group’s first amendment rights were not violated. Citizens United was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. The high court’s decision in that case allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, provided they do so independent of candidates.

A joint study by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Wesleyan Media Project has found that outside groups have paid for nearly half of all ads in Senate races this cycle.The percentage is even higher in competitive races. Outside groups — including dark money groups that don’t have to disclose their donors — accounted for 80 percent of ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

The week has not been a good one for Democrat Ted Strickland, of Ohio. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that top Democratic groups had delayed their ad buys in the state. The same day, The Hill revealed that a super PAC associated with the billionaire Koch brothers had canceled an ad buy supporting his opponent, Sen. Rob Portman. Strickland has fallen behind in recent polls in Ohio, and the moves by outside groups to pull or delay ad buys indicate that they are confident the race is becoming less competitive.

The Senate race in Nevada has become a proxy war between outgoing U.S. Senator Harry Reid and the Koch brothers, according to the New York Times. Sen. Reid is supporting Democratic nominee Catherine Cortez Masto, while the Kochs are supporting Republican Rep. Joe Heck. Freedom Partners Action Fund, Concerned Veterans for America, Americans for Prosperity and The Libre Initiative, all outside groups associated with the Kochs, are working to mobilize voters against Ms. Cortez Masto. Meanwhile the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC associated with Sen. Reid, is working to elect Cortez Masto, as are other outside liberal groups including the League of Conservation Voters. A poll taken in July indicates the race is too close to call.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a dark money group founded by billionaire David Koch, has launched a campaign against a South Dakota ballot measure that would require political nonprofits to disclose their donors, USA Today reports. According to the news organization, the campaign is “part of a sustained effort by [the Koch network] to keep government agencies and the public from learning more about its financial backers.” AFP CEO Luke Hilgemann told USA Today that donors can be subject to harassment and intimidation when their identities are disclosed, making it more difficult for them to exercise their free speech rights to advocate for political causes. Hilgemann also said that politicians who have opposed his organization’s views on tax and other policy issues have backed the measure, “because they don’t like us bringing these issues to light and holding them accountable.”

The FBI is investigating the role Arizona’s largest electricity supplier played in a 2014 election for commissioners to the state’s utility rate-setting agency, according to The Arizona Republic. The news organization reports the power supplier, Arizona Public Service, is suspected of “indirectly funding” at least one 501(c)(4) organization that spent money to elect two commissioners with close ties to the utility. Federal agents have sent grand jury subpoenas to Pinnacle West Capital, which owns Arizona Public Service, the electricity supplier, according to a regulatory filing cited by the news organization. The utility and the nonprofit, Save Our Future Now, each say they are cooperating with the investigation. On Wednesday, the director of utilities for the Arizona Corporation Commission, the agency that determines what customers pay for power and water, resigned without explanation. His resignation will take effect in mid-October.

One Nation, a dark money group affiliated with political strategist Karl Rove, has canceled its ad buy in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, the Wall Street Journal reports. The cancellation of the $2.8 million media buy to support Republican Sen. Rob Portman seems to indicate the group is confident he will win re-election. One Nation also announced a $1 million ad buy to bolster Republican Sen. Roy Blunt’s re-election bid in Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Blunt is running against Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri’s Secretary of State.

Some campaign finance reform groups in New York don’t want Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would require outside spending groups to provide more disclosure about their donors and their relationships with candidates, according to WRVO Radio. Cuomo championed the legislation, which passed the state legislature in June. The reform groups argue that the measure doesn’t address the root causes of political corruption, while making it more difficult for small organizations to lobby state government. A Cuomo spokesman denounced that position as hypocritical. The governor is expected to sign the bill soon.

Last Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending in those races.

Americans for Prosperity, a dark money group backed by the Koch brothers, is launching a campaign to support Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman’s reelection campaign, The Washington Post reports. While the group will not be paying for ads, it will be sending out volunteers to knock on doors in Coffman’s district. This marks the first time in the 2016 general election cycle that Americans for Prosperity has developed a grassroots campaign in an effort to influence a House race.

While clearing both Mayor Bill de Blasio and a nonprofit closely linked to him of campaign finance violations on Wednesday, New York City’s Campaign Finance Board said the organization’s fundraising “plainly raises serious policy and perception issues,” The New York Times reports. The group, Campaign for One New York, which was run by advisers to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign, used donations to support many of the initiatives de Blasio has pushed since taking office. The organization stopped operating in March, in the wake of repeated questions over its finances. Mayor de Blasio has defended the group’s actions, arguing the nonprofit voluntarily disclosed its contributions, despite not being required to. But in a statement issued about its decision, the board disagreed, saying the nonprofit’s disclosures were not comprehensive or fully accessible by the public.

A California coalition of unions and community organizations unveiled a list of dark money donors as part of its campaign to extend a state income tax on people earning over $250,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. The tax, which provides funding for California’s schools, was first enacted after voters approved a ballot initiative in 2012 which is set to expire in 2018. Proposition 55 on the state’s November ballot would extend the tax until 2030. The California Hedge Clippers released the list of donors to Americans for Job Security, a politically active nonprofit that opposed the 2012 initiatives. On its Facebook page, the group says it aims “to expose how hedge funds & billionaires influence CA government & politics.” The LA Times said the release of this information now, ahead of the election, “could be called preventive disclosure, or strategic shaming.”

Montana lawmakers have rejected ten Republicans’ call for a special legislative session to raise campaign contribution limits, Montana Public Radio reports. After a federal judge ruled in May that Montana’s current campaign contribution limits, approved by voters in 1994, were unconstitutional, pre-1994 limits went into effect. The measure received 20 of the 76 votes needed for passage.