Special Interest Cash Floods New York House Race

The election is a proxy for parties and interest groups.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Much has been written—a lot of it by me—about how the special election in New York's 23d district has become a proxy for a GOP civil war between base conservatives and more pragmatic establishment Republicans. Perhaps the starkest illustration of how this race—the only House contest in the country this year—has become about something more than the Republican candidate, the Democratic candidate and the Conservative candidate, take a look at some of the dollar figures for amounts raised and spent in the race, specifically the more than $3 million outside groups have funneled into the district.

According to Federal Election Commission figures, Democrat Bill Owens had raised a bit more than $500,000 as of the middle of October (the most recent filing period for the figures). Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman had raised a bit more than $300,000, roughly a third of which came from his own pocket. And Republican Dede Scozzafava had raked in a bit more than $250,000. That comes out to around $1.05 million raised by the three candidates as of mid-month. The current figure is undoubtedly higher, but it gives us a ballpark of how much candidate money we're looking at.

Now look at independent expenditures by outside groups, including the national parties, labor unions and folks like the conservative Club for Growth and National Republican Trust. As of this morning, those outside groups had poured more than $3 million into the race, or about three times as much as the candidates had collectively raised two weeks ago. (That's better than $4.50 for each of the 654,000 residents of the district.)

Owens, the Democrat, has been the biggest beneficiary of outside cash, with better than $1.3 million ($800,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) being spent to help get him elected. Almost $900,000 has been spent on behalf of Scozzafava, the Republican, all of it by the National Republican Congressional Committee. And more than $776,000 has been spent by supporters of Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, the biggest chunk ($670,000) from the Club for Growth. (And a state teachers union PAC, which has supported mostly Democrats but some Republicans in the past, weighed in this week with $48,250 in anti-Hoffman advertising.)

Who will get the biggest bang for their buck? Stay tuned.

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  • Corrected on 10/30/09: An earlier version of this blog post mis-stated the name of the party nominee. The Democratic nominee is Bill Owens.