Money and Democracy

Published — September 13, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Outside groups spend $1.65 million on House races in Nevada, New York

Money floods into congressional campaigns George Widman/AP


Outside groups and national party committees spent $1.65 million on the special congressional elections in New York and Nevada, according to an analysis by iWatch News. Just under half the total poured into the races in the final week.

In both races, the Democratic Party nominees have led in terms of direct campaign contributions. In Nevada, Kate Marshall (about $748,000 reported) has out-raised Republican Mark Amodei (about $659,000), while in New York David Weprin (about $684,000) has more than doubled the campaign cash of his opponent Bob Turner (about $323,000).

But in a possible harbinger of campaigns to come, the two Republican candidates received a huge boost from spending by outside groups, partially making up for what the candidates could not raise in direct contributions. Both Republicans won.

Eleven outside groups and party committees combined to spend over $1.65 million on ads, mailings, websites, phone calls and other get-out-the-vote efforts designed to influence the two special elections, according to an iWatch News analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Of those, only two — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the House Majority PAC — favored the Democratic candidates.

Party and non-party groups favoring the Republicans outspent their pro-Democratic counterparts $978,000 to $676,900, helping to partially offset the hard-money fundraising gap enjoyed by the Democrats.

Both parties’ national committees focused their independent expenditures on defending their home turf—the Republicans in Nevada and the Democrats in New York. And while Republican-allied groups spent almost $95,000 in support of the Republican candidate in New York, Democratic-leaning groups sat out the race in Nevada.

National party committees donated just over $20,000 directly to the four candidates but spent more than $1 million on independent expenditures—nearly $598,000 by the National Republican Congressional Committee and more than $514,000 by the DCCC.

Though outside spending in New York predominately aided the Democrat, Republicans had a greater advantage with outside groups unaffiliated with the party due to a mammoth advantage in the Nevada race.

GOP-allied groups spent about $380,000, compared to the roughly $162,600 spent by House Majority PAC, a “Super PAC” aimed at helping Democrats win congressional races. Aside from Crossroads, the eight other independent expenditure groups aiding the Republicans are a mix of general conservative advocacy and special interest groups.

“Super PACs” were created thanks to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which allows groups to raise and spend unlimited sums of money from corporations and labor unions on independent expenditures to influence elections.

All of House Majority’s spending went to ads attacking Republican nominee Turner in New York over the last week of the election.

In Nevada, Republican Armodei easily won the Nevada race to fill the vacant House seat of now-Sen. Dean Heller. Still, GOP groups pumped a significant amount of money into the race, including the well-known American Crossroads, a Super PAC linked to Karl Rove, which has spent more than $261,000, according to FEC expenditure reports.

While Marshall’s campaign fund raising had been competitive, she was unable to gather support from either the Democratic Party or allied independent groups. Not a single dollar was spent on independent expenditures, either to help her or to attack her opponent, according to FEC filings. Among the groups supporting Amodei are two anti-abortion groups, National Right to Life PAC and Nevadans for Life PAC, which combined to spend more than $10,000.

In New York, despite the Democratic-leanings of the district, Democrat David Weprin lost to Republican Bob Turner. Turner will serve out the remainder of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s term; Weiner was forced to resign earlier this year after lewd photos of the congressman appeared online.

Unlike in Nevada, Democrats went into the New York race with a major last-minute push. The DCCC began running ads last weekend warning that the Republican Turner would cut Social Security for seniors — a claim rated “False” by — while the pro-Weprin House Majority PAC ads feature a man dressed as a founding father criticizing Turner’s ties to the Tea Party.

Despite their role as one of the most active political groups in the past year and their spending in Nevada, American Crossroads eschewed the New York race. Spokesman Jonathan Collegio told iWatch News that there was “lots of activity [in New York] by other groups and Crossroads is careful to not be duplicative in its efforts.”

Weprin has drawn fire from the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay marriage organization, for his support of the same-sex marriage bill that passed in New York months ago. Weprin has also been attacked by the Republican Jewish Coalition, a pro-Israel group that has spent more than $24,000 in a direct mail campaign to Jewish voters. Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, was expected to do well among the sizeable Jewish population in the district.

As for why Crossroads spent lavishly in the Nevada race, Collegio said “It is doubly important to keep Nevada (District) 2 in Republican hands because if Republicans hold that seat, it will be easier to win the more competitive new and redrawn seats once the redistricting process is complete.”

Regardless of Tuesday’s results, these independent expenditure groups have plenty more opportunities to wield financial influence: the primary special election to replace Oregon Democrat David Wu will be held Nov. 8, and the presidential primaries loom just a few weeks later.

UPDATED Sept. 14 with election results. Both Republicans won.

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