Campaigns Get Millions in Outsider Cash10/18 06:37

Campaigns Get Millions in Outsider Cash10/18 06:37

   It's been eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared that political 
spending is free speech. The decision eased the way for corporations, unions or 
nonprofits to spend massive amounts to support, or more often, denounce 
candidates in tight races.

   FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- It's been eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court 
declared that political spending is free speech. The decision eased the way for 
corporations, unions or nonprofits to spend massive amounts to support, or more 
often, denounce candidates in tight races.

   Citizens United, as the ruling is commonly known, has transformed American 
political campaigns, most notably over the airways.

   But the flood of cash also pays for an army of field offices, canvassers, 
data miners and even good-old-fashioned opposition researchers, in a system 
designed to influence voters around the country.

   WHAT'S HAPPENING

   Today, a considerable portion of campaign activity voters see is paid for by 
donors who live elsewhere and, in many cases, contribute to some kind of 
political committee. Some of those committees must disclose where their money 
comes from; but others, the so-called dark money groups, don't have to identify 
their sources of income.

   Certainly candidates are raising plenty of money, but they are subject to 
comparatively low donor limits. A single donor can give a single federal 
candidate no more than $2,700 in each round of an election cycle (the primary, 
any primary runoff and the general election). Party committees have much higher 
limits.

   Democrats' enthusiasm this cycle has used that system to propel more than 
100 House candidates to fundraising advantages over their rival GOP incumbents.

   But Republicans are more than making up for any gap through super PACs. The 
Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, for example, has raised more than $126 
million, including huge checks from GOP megadonors like casino magnate Sheldon 
Adelson and his wife, Miriam. They each gave the fund $12.5 million this 
spring. To be clear, there are liberal megadonors, as well. Billionaire 
environmentalist Tom Steyer is spending tens of millions of dollars through one 
PAC that's pushing for Trump's impeachment and another that's trying to drive 
up millennial turnout.

   The result of this financial flood is a cacophony of messaging on the 
airwaves and in digital advertising that voters must navigate in the closing 
weeks of the campaign.

   ___

   EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press reporters are on the ground around the 
country, covering political issues, people and races from places they live. The 
Ground Game series highlights that reporting, looking at politics from the 
ground up. Each week, in stories and a new podcast , AP reporters examine the 
political trends that will drive the national conversation tomorrow.

   ___

   WHY IT MATTERS

   Everyone complains about big-money campaigns --- particularly outside money 
--- and the negative advertising that follows as a result. But campaigns and 
outside groups keep using them for one reason: They work.

   And as digital advertising and data analyses of voter tendencies gets more 
and more sophisticated, political organizations are dedicating more and more 
money to those efforts. Quite often, that process starts before candidates' own 
fundraising gets off the ground.

   For example, independent groups like Republicans' Congressional Leadership 
Fund and Steyer's NextGen America sometimes set up shop in a district or state 
long before general election campaigns.

   WHAT TO WATCH

   A good example comes in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, a 
Republican-leaning district where Democrats are making a strong push.

   Republican Rep. Andy Barr easily won his third term two years ago, but the 
district has alternated between the two major political parties five times 
since 1978, and Democrats have long seen Barr as an inviting target.

   GOP players in Washington fought to back their candidate, with Barr's 
district drawing early investments from CLF, the GOP super PAC working to 
defend Republicans' imperiled House majority.

   CLF has reserved more than $2.6 million in television air time in the 
district, including at least $940,000 in television advertising spent to 
criticize his Democratic opponent, former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath.

   Barr also has benefited from National Republican Congressional Committee 
spending and ad buys from the American Bankers Association and the National 
Association of Realtors.

   Democratic PACs have answered, even if in smaller amounts.

   For her part, McGrath has been a fundraising juggernaut. Her $6 million-plus 
haul is a staggering sum for a House race. Barr has raised $4 million, but has 
been far more dependent on PACs (more outside money).

   To be clear, lots of McGrath's money has come from individual donors from 
outside the Kentucky district. But that kind of outside money flows directly to 
the candidate, who then decides how to spend it, as opposed to the third-party 
spending that neither candidate controls.

   Spending on her behalf has meant that McGrath has had no trouble keeping her 
pledge not to run attack ads. She can leave the attacks on Barr to the 
independent spenders like the House Majority PAC, which is Democrats' counter 
to CLF.

   DON'T MISS

   Whatever the results on Nov. 6, there will be plenty of crowing from the 
outside groups that invested heavily to shape the Congress they want. CLF's 
overall spending could top $150 million. The House Majority PAC could reach 
about $60 million. The various official party committees will add several 
hundred million more to the House and Senate ledgers.

   Of course, the losers aren't likely to take the blame. For them, the voters 
will have decided.


(KA)

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