The controversy over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups has put a spotlight on the non-profit groups that played such a prominent role in the 2012 campaign. The groups have become popular conduits for political funds because, unlike political action committees, they do not have to disclose donors to the Federal Election Commission.
While most of the groups whose applications the IRS slow-walked were relatively small givers, many groups that did land non-profit status gave big.
Check out this page to see the "social welfare" non-profits who made political expenditures in the 2012 election cycle.
Because of the interest, the Sunlight Foundation has decided to update the Return on Investment feature we first published the day after the election. This analysis looks at more than 100,000 lines of itemized expenditures made by outside spending groups (super PACS as well as 501(c) non profits) and calculates the amount of money that went toward the desired result on Election Day. Our update accounts for updated filings and amendments at the Federal Election Commission and our own data cleanup.
For more details on each group listed below click on the “see ROI breakdown” button. You can sort by general election spending, candidate, support or oppose, and election result.
In the two weeks since Election Day, Sunlight -- along with many others -- have examined the impact of outside money. In competitive House seats we found no statistically observable relationship between the outside spending and the likelihood of victory, and found no evidence of spending impacting outcomes for the Senate either. It's important to note that those who contributed to the $1.4 billion spent by outside groups still matters, though. As Executive Director Ellen Miller notes: "Even if their candidates lost, the influence bought by America's new class of mega donors will remain."
Here, we find some indication that outside spending in primary races may have had implications for general election outcomes this cycle. In the competitive races where there was significant primary activity by outside spenders, as compared to a baseline in which parties retaining control of seats they held in the 112th Congress, Democrats over-performed while Republicans significantly underperformed. Furthermore, we found notable involvement by outside Democratic groups in Republican primaries which may have played a roll, while finding little evidence of parallel Republican activity.
We looked at the 90 races in the House that were competitive as of September 6th, according to the Cook Political Report (Likely, Lean or Tossup). Of these competitive seats, in the 19 where there was more than $10,000 in outside Democratic spending, Democrats won 17, a success rate of 89%. This was despite the fact that 12 of those 19 seats were previously held by Republicans. In contrast, of the 25 seats where there was over $10,000 in outside Republican spending, Republicans only won 11, or 44%. 17 of these seats had been held by Republicans prior to the election.
One of the emerging post-campaign narratives is that all the outside money (more than $1.3 billion) that poured into the 2012 election didn’t buy much in the way of victories. And as we dig through the results in detail (our extensive data visualizations and analysis are below), the story holds up: we can find no statistically observable relationship between the outside spending and the likelihood of victory.
Looking closely at the data helps to clarify and explore this emerging narrative in numerous ways. It also helps us to see some other smaller effects of money. It appears that candidate spending may have mattered a bit more than outside spending, especially for Democrats. It also appears that outside spending may have contributed slightly to the vote share, though not to the probability of victory.
This post is based on House results, both because looking at the House gives us a larger sample size, and because there’s more of a likelihood that money could make a difference in House races, given the smaller size of House seats (compared to the Senate), the recent redistricting and the fact that we’ve had three House elections in a row with high turnover. (We’ll come back to the Senate soon, we promise)
First an overview. As of September 6, two months before the election, the Cook Political Report listed 90 House seats as either likely for one party, lean for one party, or toss-ups. These were the seats where money could make a difference if it were to make one. (Before we proceed, a few caveats: 1. The candidate spending totals are through October 17; and 2. For purposes of the analysis we include outcomes still pending final approval.)
Outside spending on these 90 seats was just over a quarter of a billion: $250,656,656, and candidate spending was just short of $300 million: $297,947,7717. In the 25 toss-up races, candidates spent $100,164,189; outside groups spent $140,043,821.
Within 60 days of an election, every dollar spent by a candidate has the same television advertising buying power as $1.63 from any non-candidate source, according to a new analysis of advertisement contracts in the Las Vegas media market. During this period, FCC regulations mandate that TV stations charge candidates “no more per unit than the station charges its most favorite commercial advertisers” for the same ad time. As it turns out, this preferred status nets candidates a significant discount over super PACs, dark money organizations and party committees.
According to this new data—collected through Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth—candidates enjoy an average markdown of $364 off their typical $946 price tag for a thirty second spot, which constitutes a 38.5 percent price cut.
This helps to explain why, as Ezra Klein has pointed out, ads from Obama and his allies have been more frequent than ads from Romney and his allies. Because more money on the Republican side has been flowing into the election through super PACs and other outside groups, the GOP’s purchasing power is diminished.
Now we know—with only a few exceptions—the results of the 2010 midterms in terms of who’s in and who’s out. But what we may never know is amount of access and influence contributors to shadow political campaigns now have to those who were elected. And unless a robust political spending disclosure bill is enacted, we never will. That is why, first and foremost, Sunlight will be working with the new Congress to pass a targeted disclosure bill that will disinfect the corrupting influence secret political money has on our democracy.
This election season, companies, unions and wealthy individuals have laundered almost $200 million dollars through outside groups to spend on campaign activity, including ubiquitous negative TV ads. (That figure doesn't even include spending by the political parties themselves.) Their generosity was fueled not by civic duty, but by a legislative agenda that will be energetically pursued by lobbyists. While visiting the offices of the newly elected or re-elected, those lobbyists will remind the politicians of their clients’ financial support for their election bids. But here’s the problem; while the lobbyists will be ready and willing to share the names and interests of donors who funneled six or seven digit sums through sham nonprofit organizations and Super PACs, you and I will never have access to that information.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the Citizens United case that contributed to the current mess, the Court upheld disclaimer and disclosure requirements by an 8 to 1 vote. On Monday, the Court refused to hear arguments in Keating v. FEC, thereby upholding a lower court decision requiring Independent Expenditure Only Committees, or Super PACs, to disclose their donors. It’s time to sweep aside any pretense that disclosure and disclaimer rules are unconstitutional and instead focus on getting a robust transparency law enacted.
Despite the failure to pass the DISCLOSE Act before the midterms, Congress must quickly revisit this issue of disclosure of third party spending so that voters know who is paying for campaign ads in 2012. The DISCLOSE Act contained provisions that went beyond pure transparency measures. In the end, such measures probably didn’t destroy the bill’s chances of being passed, but they certainly didn’t help. Now, we have incontrovertible evidence that secret campaign contributions will influence our elections. Preventing future corruption is too important for Members from either party to weigh down a bill with extraneous provisions. A streamlined, focused disclosure bill must at the top of Congress’s must-pass list.
We can’t follow the money if we can’t find it. Any member of Congress who supported DISCLOSE, anyone who has ever called for any degree of greater government transparency, and anyone who was elected through calls to “take back our government” (in this case, from the hands of secret, wealthy special interests) should be willing to hit the ground running with a bill that precisely focuses on disclosure while uncovering all the sources secret spending so they won’t be secret anymore.
The Citizens United case was a game changer in terms of money being spent by outside groups on the 2010 elections—but the question is, how much? This primer (included below) provides a detailed explanation of the before and after, and also includes Sunlight’s policy recommendations for new disclosures needed to ensure that that the midterms don’t become a practice run for even more massive spending in 2012. It’s complicated, but boiled down to its essentials, the key points are these:
• Before Citizens United, if a corporation or labor union wanted to make an independent expenditure—an ad expressly calling for the election or defeat of a specific candidate—it was prohibited from using money from its general treasury. It had to use limited voluntary contributions from its PAC.
• After Citizens United, corporations and labor unions can use unlimited general treasury money to explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.
• Before Citizens United, Super PACs didn’t exist.
• After Citizens United, Super PACs (also known as Independent Expenditure Only Committees) sprouted up and can act as conduits for massive, hidden corporate or union contributions to ads calling for the election or defeat of candidates.
• Before Citizens United, there were laws that, while weak, could have been used to sanction groups when they spent undisclosed corporate funds on “electioneering communications”—those ads that, more often than not, criticize a candidate but stop just short of explicitly telling the viewer to vote for or against the candidate.
• After Citizens United, groups have the green light to make electioneering communications, paid for with unlimited corporate funds, with no risk and no disclosure of the true funders of the ads. Groups that had been on the sidelines were emboldened to start spending huge sums on election-related ads.
The result is that outside groups have spent $259 million so far this election season. The real donors behind the spending are mostly a deep dark secret to you and me, but make no mistake—these are not anonymous contributions, they merely are not disclosed to the public. If a corporate interest funneled a million dollars to a sham nonprofit organization that runs ads that helped get Congressman Smith elected, the lobbyist for that corporation will make sure Congressman Smith knows about it. It may not be as opaque as the pre-Watergate brown bags of cash, but it is similarly corrupting.
While the Citizens United case contributed to the mess, it’s up to Congress to clean it up. Despite the failure to pass the DISCLOSE Act before the midterms, Congress must quickly revisit this issue of disclosure of third party spending so that voters know who is paying for campaign ads. The Citizens United court itself supported disclosure and disclaimer requirements by a vote of 8-1, noting that they “do not prevent anyone from speaking.” Moreover, they facilitate the ability of a listener or viewer to “evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected.”
Any new legislative effort should focus with laser-like precision on disclosure and disclaimer provisions that will make it clear exactly who is paying for campaign related expenditures.
Yesterday, Slate ran a piece highlighting the mystery behind 60 Plus--particularly who's flooding it with money. 60 Plus is organized under the internal revenue code as a 501(c)4 organization; as such, the group does not have to disclose its donors. Slate reported that one of the candidates 60 Plus attacked, Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., has responded through his campaign that 60 Plus's agenda is to "destroy Social Security." A campaign spokesperson also said they believe the drug industry is bankrolling the effort, but pharmaceutical representatives deny that.
"The problem facing Democrats wasn't just this huge new influx of enemy cash. It was also that they had no idea where 60 Plus was getting that money from. (As a 501(c)4 organization, 60-Plus does not have to disclose its donors and only needs to detail where money has come from in annual 990 forms.) In 2006 and 2007, it spent $1.2 million and $1.9 million. Now it's dumping $6 million on ads?"