Beyond Super PACs: Political groups up electioneering spending as mid-terms approach


Outside organizations have so far reported spending more than $18 million to run issue ads mentioning candidates within 30 days of primaries and 60 days of the general election–a 31 percent increase over the last mid-term election cycle. Corporate trade associations, labor unions, environmental groups, proponents of traditional values and even a group that opposes big money in politics have run ads in the run up to November 2, reports from the Federal Election Commission show.

In the 2006 election cycle, the total organizations reported spending on electioneering communications in a comparable period was $13.7 million, according to the FEC.

The Reporting Group earlier released a tool and a report tracking independent expenditures made this election cycle, which found that spending on ads and other forms of express advocacy for or against a candidate or specific piece of legislation totaled $57 million, up 61 percent over the previous mid-term cycle. 

Since we released our initial report, the total amount spent on independent expenditures which includes ads is now approximately $91 million – a $34 million increase in just a week.

Our easy to use tool now includes electioneering communications, giving a comprehensive picture of groups spending money to sway voters in the upcoming elections. Adding in electioneering communications, and the total amount spent in these mid-terms by outside groups is more than $109 million, an analysis of FEC data shows.

Organizations have to file electioneering communication reports with the FEC when they broadcast ads mentioning a federal candidate 30 days prior to a primary or 60 days prior to a general election. Not all ads mentioning candidates turn up in the FEC database–the Emergency Committee for Israel, for example, ran ads attacking the record of Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., after he defeated incumbent Arlen Spector to secure the Democratic nomination for the Senate. Because the ads, which aired in the middle of July, came after the primary ended but more than 60 days before the general election, the FEC has no record of the ads.

Most of the spending so far has gone towards hot primary races earlier this year, following the same pattern as organizations that explicitly support or oppose a specific candidate. For instance, the Arkansas Democratic primary race between incumbent Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter – the state’s Lieutenant Governor running for the Senate seat – saw more than $3.8 million spent followed by the Massachusetts ($2.2 million) and California ($1.5 million) Senate races. Groups that spent most on this specific race include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas for Change and Communications Workers of America NF.  

Races seeing top spending as electioneering communications

Race Electioneering total
AR-Senate 3,865,744
MA-Senate 2,284,577
CA-Senate 1,570,757
NH-Senate 1,419,234
CO-Senate 1,295,311
NV-Senate 1,281,670
FL-Senate 1,053,000
KY-Senate 911,437
MO-Senate 776,512


Among groups spending the most this election running issue ads are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Job Security and the American Future Fund. The Chamber of Commerce ran million dollar ads that mention Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist running for the Senate seat and Scott Brown who won the Senate seat from Massachusetts earlier this year. The tax-exempt D.C.based group, Americans for Job Security spent more than $1.3 million on the Arkansas Senate race while American Future Fund has spent more than $600,000 on ads mentioning candidates that ran in the special election for Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat.

Campaign Money Watch, an organization allied with Public Campaign Action Fund–which advocates for passage of the Fair Elections Act which aims to limit the role of money in politics–spent $28,700 on an ad criticizing Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., for taking a Hawaiian junket with lobbyists that he financed with campaign contributions.

Committees spending the most on electioneering communication

Committee Electioneering total  
US Chamber of Commerce 6,617,410  
Americans For Job Security 2,043,468  
American Future Fund 1,298,472  
Arkansans for Change 1,181,954  
Communications Workers of America NF 1,174,194  
Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies 1,104,782  
Californians/Balanced Budget/Better Econ 750,000  
Citizens for Strength & Security 590,877  


Aaron Bycoffe contributed to this report.