The current barrage of pre-election polls are one indication of which of this year's races are the most competitive, but independent expenditure figures also show which races outside groups view as competitive--and how much they're willing to spend to sway those competitive elections. Party committees, PACs, labor unions, and corporations can try to sway elections by spending unlimited amounts on independent expenditures, which are political communications that an organization makes in support of or against specific candidates, without coordinating with those candidates or their opponents. A look at the groups that spent the most on independent expenditures last week shows the Colorado Senate race between Republican Ken Buck and incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is a top priority for 4 of the top 10 organizations. Other high-profile Senate races, like those in Illinois and Pennsylvania, figured prominently in many groups' spending as well.
Below are the 10 groups that spent the most on independent expenditures last week.
1. National Republican Congressional Committee ($8,383,957)
This is the second consecutive week that the Republicans' House campaign committee has topped the list of big campaign spenders. However, its spending has jumped considerably from week to week. Last week, the House GOP's campaign committee spent $8.4 million in independent expenditures, over $3 million more than it had spent the prior seven days. A vast majority of this spending--nearly $8.3 million--was disbursed on October 8, on both ads and polling, opposing 56 Democratic candidates. Last week, the committee spent its biggest bucks on survey research, media, and consulting in oppositon to three incumbent Democratic women. Over $417,000 went toward unseating Colorado's Betsy Markey, $364,000 was spent against New Hampshire's Carol Shea-Porter, and $380,000 went toward unseating Nevada's Dina Titus.
2. Democratic Congressional Campaign Comittee ($8,145,990)
The House Democrats' committee stepped up its spending in a major way last week, with $8.1 million spent opposing 46 GOP House candidates. This total represents an increase of nearly $5.5 million in independent expenditures over the week before. Though the money was spread out over many races, the committee spent notably more opposing a few candidates in particular. The committee's most expensive opponent last week was Maryland Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris, against whom the Dems spent $400,000 in his race against incumbent Rep. Frank Kratovil. The committee's next most expensive opponent was Ohio Republican financial consultant James Renacci. The committee spent $330,000 in opposition to Renacci, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. John Boccieri.
3. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($4,776,733)
Like the other national party committees, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee upped its spending last week, shelling out $2 million more in independent expenditures than it had the previous week. The Democrats' Senate committee spent on nine races, but its most prominent target was Colorado Republican Buck, with over $1.3 spent on TV and radio advertisements advocating his defeat.
4. National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund ($3,134,386)
The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund spent $3.1 million on flyers, radio and TV advertisements, and mailings in 11 congressional races. The group supported 11 Republicans and opposed five Democrats last week, with the greatest amount--$1.1 million--spent on opposing Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and supporting Rep. Roy Blunt in their Senate race. Carnahan is a strong proponent of gun control, and in 1999 angered Missouri gun rights advocates by working to defeat a ballot measure that would have required local police departments to issue concealed weapon permits.
5. Crossroads GPS ($2,950,829)
Together, Crossroads GPS and its affiliate, American Crossroads, have been at the forefront of the conservative effort to unseat congressional Democrats this cycle and are regularly among the top spenders on independent expenditures. Crossroads GPS had in past weeks lagged behind American Crossroads (No. 7, below) in spending but last week stepped up its efforts, spending nearly $1.8 million more than it had the week before. Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexander Giannoulias took the most heat from the group, which spent over $1 million on television advertisements advocating his defeat in his race against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk.
6. National Republican Senatorial Committee ($2,160,652)
The GOP's Senate committee last week took a targeted strategy in its spending, focusing all of its $2.2 million in independent expenditures on Senate races in four states: Washington, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Colorado. The most expensive target was West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin. The committee spent $800,000 opposing Manchin in his Senate race against Republican businessman John Raese. The committee also spent $691,000 opposing Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who is in a tight race with Republican Ken Buck.
7. American Crossroads ($1,427,012)
Though Crossroads has been at the forefront of the news about campaign spending this year, the group spent over $900,000 less last week than it had the previous week. American Crossroads focused most of its energies on targeting Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, spending nearly $800,000--over half of its independent expenditures last week--on mailings and TV advertisements opposing him. The group also announced this week that it would coordinate with two other conservative groups, the American Action Network and the Committee on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity, on a $50 million ad campaign against House Democrats.
8. National Association of Realtors PAC ($1,217,464)
While the National Association of Realtors PAC had in previous weeks favored Republican candidates in its spending, last week the balance shifted more to the left. The PAC last week spent in support of seven Democrats and six Republicans, with the top three beneficiaries all Democratic House members. The PAC spent nearly $380,000 supporting Pennsylvania's Paul Kanjorski, $370,000 on Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, and $334,000 on John Adler of New Jersey. While the PAC may not decisively favor one party or the other in its cumulative spending, it does appear to favor incumbents--all of the 11 House candidates and two Senate candidates whom the PAC supported last week are sitting members of Congress.
9. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ($750,000)
AFSCME is among last week's top 10 spenders as a result of one ad for one candidate. The union spent $750,000 on a 30-second TV advertisement opposing Republican Reid Ribble, who is running in Wisconsin's Eighth Congressional District against incumbent Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen. The ad features senior citizens saying that Ribble is "wrong for Wisconsin" due to a statement he made in 2009, saying that Social Security needs to be "phased out."
10. Club for Growth Action ($668,232)
Club for Growth Action spent much of its $668,000 in independent expenditures last week on two battleground Senate races. The fiscally conservative club spent $346,000 in Pennsylvania, where it used mail, e-mail, and TV ad campaigns to promote Republican Pat Toomey (a former head of the Club for Growth, with which Club for Growth Action is associated) and oppose Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Club for Growth Action also dropped $287,000 on mailings and TV ad campaigns in Colorado, where it supported Republican Buck and opposed Democrat Bennet.
Data covers the latest available electronically filed reports of expenditures made from October 3 through 9. As the Democratic and Republican senatorial committees may file their expenditure reports on paper, rather than electronically, the data on their expenditures may be incomplete.
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