VOL. 125 | NO. 174 | Wednesday, September 8, 2010
No Recession Here: Election Spending Sets Records
JIM KUHNHENN | Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Turns out politics, for all its focus on the gloomy economy, is a recession-proof industry.
This year’s volatile election is bursting with money, setting fundraising and spending records in a high-stakes struggle for control of Congress amid looser but still fuzzy campaign finance rules.
Based on the latest financial reports, House and Senate candidates in this cycle raised nearly $1.2 billion, well ahead of the pace for contests in 2008, 2006 and 2004.
“We may be on track for the most expensive cycle ever, even more than ‘08, which is really hard to believe,” said Michael Toner, a campaign finance lawyer and a former Federal Election Commission chairman.
Factors affecting the role of money:
The Supreme Court earlier this year freed corporations and unions to spend their money on ads targeting candidates for president and Congress. A subsequent lower court ruling said individuals are also free to spend unlimited amounts on independent election ads.
So far, however, corporations have generally avoided overt politicking.
“The whole notion of ‘Vote against Snodgrass by Gillette shaving cream’ – it’s just not going to happen,” said Kenneth Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist who specializes in political media.
Instead, corporations are funneling their money to trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or other groups that can air election ads, often without having to disclose their donors.
The Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $70 million in elections this year. It has already devoted more than $5 million to advertising campaigns helping Republicans in Senate races in Massachusetts, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and New Hampshire, and for Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas.
Since 2000, Republicans had relied on President George W. Bush’s prodigious fundraising to keep the party well supplied with money. Now, however, the GOP lags behind the Democratic Party. That has created a web of outside groups, a shadow party of sorts weighing in with millions of dollars to help Republican candidates.
Among the most prominent is American Crossroads and its allied groups. It was created under the direction of former Bush political strategist Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.
Politicians often point to their small-dollar donations as evidence of broad appeal. But American Crossroads and its affiliates are relying on large corporate and individual donors, the fastest and most efficient way to build their budgets.
While American Crossroads and groups like it represent the mainstream of the Republican Party, the Tea Party Express is the party’s occasional ally but more regularly a thorn in its side. Its Our Country Deserves Better PAC spent nearly $600,000 to help Republican Joe Miller defeat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska primary. Murkowski had the GOP’s backing.
The PAC also helped tea party favorite Sharron Angle in Nevada over a GOP establishment-supported Senate candidate and is now backing conservative Christine O’Donnell in a Senate primary in Delaware over party-backed Rep. Mike Castle.
Labor is weighing in on the side of Democrats, gearing up to spend $100 million or more by Election Day. The AFL-CIO has pledged to spend more than $50 million and the Service Employees International Union has a $44 million political budget. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is also pledging millions to assist Democrats, began airing $1.5 million worth of ads on Tuesday in Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The Democratic National Committee and its Senate and House party affiliates have the advantage over their GOP counterparts in fundraising and cash on hand. That puts an additional burden on outside Republican groups.
Republicans can also look to another quarter for help. The Republican Governors Association, which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, has outraised its Democratic rival and is prepared to spend $65 million by Election Day, compared with $50 million for the Democrats.
While the governors’ group cannot use the money to help federal candidates, its get-out-the-vote efforts will inevitably help all Republicans on the ballot.
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