Money Floods Massachusetts' Record-Breaking Senate Race

Candidates raise $20 million combined, while outside groups skirt "The People's Pledge."

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If money equals speech in politics, everyone wants a say in this year's marquee congressional race.

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren together raised nearly $20 million in the third quarter and the outside spending both sides agreed to ban has found a way into the race anyway.

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Warren's campaign raised $12 million and Brown's nearly $8 million, according to their campaigns, pushing the race's total cash haul north of $70 million as of Sept. 30. The race became the most expensive in Massachusetts history in July, when it was already the most expensive in the country by more than $10 million. Monday's totals indicate it will almost certainly be the priciest non-presidential campaign this year. Warren alone raised more in two and a half months than the average winning Senate candidate did in total during the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Both candidates hailed their totals as indications of grassroots support within the state. The Warren campaign claimed "more than 80 percent of donations were $50 or less" while the Brown side pointed out "nearly 60 percent" of its contributors were from Massachusetts.

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"Tens of thousands of people across Massachusetts have joined this campaign because they know that Elizabeth will fight for them in the U.S. Senate," said Michael Pratt, Warren's finance director, in a statement.

The Brown side said the quarter was its most "successful fund-raising quarter of the 2012 cycle," with finance director John Cook adding that "Scott Brown's message of being an independent fighter for Massachusetts jobs is clearly resonating with voters."

Despite their best efforts, the candidates themselves aren't the only ones spending money to influence the race. At least three groups have spent more than $1 million on the election by getting around "The People's Pledge," the candidates' unprecedented attempt to ban outside groups from advertising in the campaign. The pledge states that each candidate is required to donate half the cost of TV or Internet ads run by an outside group to the charity of the opposing candidate's choice.

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Groups such as Crossroads GPS, Karl Rove's secretive conservative nonprofit, and The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental organization, have continued to advocate in the race by exploiting a loophole in the pledge.

Instead of running TV ads or YouTube videos, the groups are using direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, and "robo-calls" to influence Massachusetts voters without breaking the pledge, Bloomberg reports.

Polls throughout the campaign have indicated the race is tight. The Real Clear Politics polling average puts Warren, who trailed most of the summer, ahead of Brown by 2.5 points. The race's tightness, the candidates' popularity, and the importance of the seat in the battle for the Senate majority all likely play a part in the money deluge, says Maurice Cunningham, chair of the political science department at UMass-Boston.

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  • Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.