AP News Flash: Citizens United equalizes playing field; independent groups add to competition

The Associated Press is out with the horrific news!

“Just five weeks from midterm elections, groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states across the country.”

Talk about a lack of perspective.

The AP suggests that these Republican-oriented independent groups have outspent Democratic-oriented groups by approximately $30 million to $5 million. Meanwhile, the three Democratic Party national committees have outspent the three Republican committees by over $25 million this cycle, and have about $24 million more in cash on hand, according to the most recent FEC reports.

This independent spending appears simply to bring the GOP and its allies nearly to parity with the Democrats.Well, actually no, it doesn’t even do that.  Beyond Party spending and spending by independent groups, Democratic House candidates enter the final 5 weeks with a total cash on hand advantage of almost $75 million over their GOP opponents.  Democratic Senate candidates have just over $1 million less aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts, but have already spent about $7 million more, and much less of their spending to date has gone to bloody primary fights.

As for each of the specific races mentioned in the AP report, as of the last FEC reporting period:

In the Nevada senate, Harry Reid (D) has outspent Sharron Angle (R) by nearly $16 million, and had more than $7 million more cash on hand than Angle;

In the Washington Senate race, Patty Murray (D) has outspent her Republican opponent Dino Rossi by almost $9 million and had about $1 million more cash on hand;

In the Colorado Senate race,  Michael Bennett (D) had outspend Ken Buck (R) by almost $6.5 million, and had a cash on hand advantage of over $1 million;

In the New Hampshire Senate race, Paul Hodes (D) had spent almost $1 million more than Kelly Ayotte (R), and had about $800,000 more cash on hand; and finally

Only in the Missouri Senate race had the Republican (Roy Blunt) outspent the Democrat (Robin Carnahan), by less than $900,000. Blunt also had a modest cash on hand advantage of about $340,000.

Meanwhile, as the article notes, “labor is devoting much of its general election money on get-out-the-vote efforts.” So the Democratic money advantage may effectively be even greater than it appears.

Given the enthusiasm gap, we would expect Republicans to be having more success in fundraising than the Democrats, so the surprise here could well be the extent to which Democrats outspend Republicans even while losing ground this fall.

As for these independent committees? Well, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md., Chair of the DCCC) sums it up about right: “There’s no even playing field.”  Indeed not, though Van Hollen’s implication as to which party has the uphill climb is wrong. The Democrats have now and should finish the campaign with a significant overall spending advantage, as they did in 2008. 

This independent spending is serving as an equalizer.  The Citizens United decision has done just what it was intended to do—increased competition, assisted challengers, and allowed more voices to be heard.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.