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Abortion rights prompts liberal groups to spend big, and early

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A year ahead of what’s considered the traditional start of congressional campaign season, top Democratic political action committees and super PACs spent $24 million in September, twice as much the top-spending Republican groups.

An analysis of spending reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission by both PACs and super PACs using the Sunlight Foundation’s Realtime Federal Campaign Finance tracker, show that seven of the top ten spending groups were left-leaning. At least two of these committees, organized to spend in federal elections, directed most of their September spending to a statewide race, helping Democrat Terry McAuliffe to a narrow victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election.

Planned Parenthood and DGA Action (a super PAC formed by the Democratic Governors’ Association) contributed $1 million each to McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The money Planned Parenthood spent on McAuliffe was actually logged as an in-kind contribution: The political action committee aired TV ads supporting McAuliffe.

In a race flooded with negative TV ads, McAuliffe narrowly beat his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, in part by zeroing in on Cuccinelli's opposition to abortion. McAuliffe's campaign ads and those of some of the groups backing him portrayed Cuccinelli as an opponent of contraception (a charge that the Republican denied and outside fact-checkers rated only partially true).

The Virginia governor’s race could be a precursor of next year's congressional midterm elections. Abortion rights groups certainly think that.

In a recent press release, NARAL Pro-Choice America cited the McAuliffe/Cuccinelli race as an example of how the group plans next year to paint anti-abortion candidates as anti-woman. NARAL President Illyse Hogue predicted that the GOP's anti-abortion platform will hurt the party's candidates next year.

“[B]eing anti-choice and proactively ramming through policies that endanger women’s health and economic freedom is a damaging platform for Republican party,” Hogue said.

Another pro-abortion rights PAC that made it into the top ten list of September spenders, Emily's List, spent close to $2 million during the month, mostly for what appears to be fundraising expenses.

Committee Spending 9/1/13-9/30/13 Filing Date
ACTBLUE $10,679,178 10/18/13 10:33
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE $8,411,426 10/20/13 17:05
DNC SERVICES CORPORATION/DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE $5,563,574 10/18/13 18:17
DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE $2,976,875 10/18/13 17:42
NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE $2,291,777 10/20/13 20:44
EMILY'S LIST $1,727,406 10/16/13 12:30
SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND $1,328,357 10/18/13 16:22
PLANNED PARENTHOOD VOTES $1,131,937 10/18/13 14:28
DGA ACTION $1,092,487 10/17/13 10:38
SEIU COPE (SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION COMMITTEE ON POLITICAL EDUCATION) $1,042,234 10/18/13 20:25

Emily's List and Planned Parenthood were numbers six and eight on the list of top ten spenders in September. Combined, the two single issue groups spent just under $4 million to help candidates that support abortion rights policies.

Emily’s List gave directly to at least 32 candidates during that month. The group’s biggest beneficiary in September: Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat from Kentucky looking to unseat Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Emily's List gave her $16,000.  ActBlue, a fundraising behemoth for the Democrats and September’s overall top spender, also gave Lundergan it’s biggest direct contribution at  $380,000.

The Senate Conservatives Fund also aired ads critical of McConnell—who is facing a primary challenge from his right flank.

Records of those ad buys appeared on Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth, which tracks political ad buys, but do not seem to have been reported to the FEC: Technically, they do not have to be at this stage of the campaign, which means that some of the amounts reported to the FEC understate what some groups are actually spending. The Senate Conservatives Fund ad buys in Kentucky cost more than $40,000, according to records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

The remaining groups in the top ten list, such as the Republican National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and ActBlue—a committee that acts as a conduit for contributions to liberal candidates—focused on contributing to candidates running next year.