2014 races we’re watching


The Sunlight Foundation’s Reporting Group spends our days poring over campaign finance numbers. In this election year, we’ve decided to provide regular posts highlighting some of the most interesting data points. On Monday, we wrote about today’s special House election in Florida. Here’s what else we’ve spotted elsewhere around the country.


Senate: Mitch McConnell v. Allison Lundergan Grimes

Senate primary: Mitch McConnell versus Matt Bevin

Mitch McConnell speaking at CPAC in 2011
Mitch McConnell speaking at CPAC, 2011; Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr
  • Real-Time FEC shows just over $3.3 million has been spent on independent expenditures in the state, compared to $7.4 million by candidates.
  • The most recent campaign filings, from the end of last year, show McConnell with more than $10.8 million in cash on hand to Lundergan Grimes’ $3.3 million. Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell from the right in the May 20 GOP primary, has raised $520,000. But he’s received more than double that in help from outside groups.
  • A glance at Sunlight’s Political Party Time shows McConnell’s fundraising has benefited his political connections inside the beltway. In January, powerhouse lobbying firm Podesta Group hosted a fundraiser for the incumbent, while another group of Washington lobbyists fêted the minority leader later that day. Lundergan Grimes has crisscrossed the country on fundraising trips, including an L.A. bash at featuring DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a member of Sunlight’s Stealthy Wealthy Hall of Fame.
  • Kentuckians for Strong Leadership (the pro-McConnell super PAC founded by American Crossroads operatives) has spent almost $1.2 million, more than any other outside group. The cash has gone towards radio and TV attack ads tying Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes to Obama and the “War on Coal.”
  • Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative’s Fund (and its associated PAC Senate Conservatives Action) FreedomWorks and the Madison Project have coalesced around Tea Party challenger Bevin. So far they’ve combined to spend more than $1.6 million on online, radio and TV advertisements attacking McConnell’s record on Obamacare and the Senate leader’s “intimidation” of Tea Party Republicans.
  • Of the $994,443 in independent expenditures that the Senate Conservatives Fund has spent this year, $375,817 — or 38 percent — went to Kentucky for TV attack ads, mailers and a website that collects donations supporting Bevin. FreedomWorks — perhaps the nation’s most powerful Tea Party affiliate — is also spending big on the race: In the past week alone, the group purchased $30,000 worth of web ads against McConnell.

Politicians fight, media consultants win

  • The Kentucky race has brought Christmas in March for TV stations and buyers. Political ad files collected by Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth show that tens of thousands of dollars in air time have been purchased in Louisville. Media buyers Target Enterprises of Sherman Oaks, Calif., Mentzer Media Services of Maryland and Strategic Media Services from the nation’s capital are some of the most common names on Louisville ad contracts. Actually it has been Christmas for more than 12 months there, as Ad Sleuth showed buys starting in Louisville as early as February 2013.
  • Pro-McConnell groups have been no slouches in the Bluegrass ad wars: The incumbent’s principal campaign committee bought more than 100 ad spots from January to February.
  • Contract files picked up by Ad Sleuth only capture a part of the story, however. Only stations in the country’s 50 largest markets that are affiliated with the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) are required to electronically post political ad files. For other stations and in smaller markets, ad files can be obtained only by visiting TV stations in person. However the contracts available show that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a campaign finance behemoth is blanketing local airwaves with pro-McConnell ads like this one.


Senate primary: Thad Cochran vs. Chris McDaniel

Portrait of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Sen. Thad Cochran (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
  • In a storyline that parallels Kentucky’s, Chris McDaniel is hoping he can stir up enough support among the state’s Republican grassroots to boot the 35-year veteran Sen. Thad Cochran from Congress. The hard right Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Madison Project and Senate Conservatives Fund  are helping. To  counter the Republican incumbent’s fundraising edge — $1.1 million in cash on hand compared to McDaniel’s $390,000 at the end of last year — these groups have spent more than $1 million in Mississippi.
  • In the past week alone, Club for Growth spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars producing and purchasing time for a new TV ad. From its website: “Cochran voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a “moral obligation” to cut spending.”
  • Mississippi Conservatives is the GOP establishment’s answer to the assault on Cochran. The New York Times reports Henry Barbour,  a Mississippi lobbyist and nephew to former Gov. Haley Barbour, R, is advising the super PAC. Mississippi Conservatives has already fired off $380,000 worth of radio and TV ads painting McDaniel as a flip flopper. See all of the race’s independent expenditures on Real-Time FEC.
  • Washington is behind Cochran: Party Time records reveal the Podesta Group and the likewise-embattled Sen. McConnell have hosted fundraisers for Cochran in the past few months.

West Virginia

Senate: Shelley Moore Capito versus Natalie Tennant

House: Nick Rahall versus Evan Jenkins

The official state seal of West Virginia. Showing settlers and the phrase "Montani Semper Liber"
Seal of West Virginia; Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., entered 2014 with a cash on hand advantage of more than 6:1 over her Democratic opponent, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The Senate seat will be open for the first time since 1985, when retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was first elected. The Appalachian Senate battle offers the Republicans one of the best opportunities to pick up a seat in a state that Mitt Romney carried by 27 points. A recent poll from Rasmussen Reports shows Capito with a 14 point lead over her Democratic opponent.
  • Tea Party favorite Pat McGeehan has failed to gather much steam in the Mountain State. The “Constitutional Conservative” state representative supports shutting down the EPA according to his campaign site had raised a total of $31,537 at the start of 2014.
  • Only one outside political group has registered independent expenditures in the race with the Federal Election Commission: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spending $200,000 on online and TV ads supporting Capito.

WV-03: Democratic super PAC fires back at the Koch brothers

  • Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va, a 30-year veteran of the House, faces one of his toughest elections yet in the heart of coal country. Rahall’s campaign is significantly outpacing his Republican challenger — state Sen. Evan Jenkins — in fundraising. But Jenkins is backed by the American Energy Alliance, a dark money group partly backed by the Koch brothers running ads decrying Rahall’s vote for a budget that would include a carbon tax that would hurt the coal industry. In response, House Majority PAC (a Democratic super PAC) unleashed a $150,000 ad buy, including the recent “Stick with Nick” ad spot. From the ad: “New York billionaires paid for those ads attacking him [Rahall] and they’re not true.”
  • A recent Republican poll shows Jenkins with a double-digit lead over the incumbent, the Washington Post reports.

An aside of note: We just picked up through the transom (a.k.a. Real-Time FEC) that the United Steelworkers’ newly formed super PAC, USW Works, gave $300,000 to the Maine Democratic Party on Feb. 22. The massive contribution is perfectly in Maine — where there are no limits on contributions to state PACs and political parties. The six figure check will come in handy as state Democrats gear up for a competitive gubernatorial election in 2014, where openly-gay Rep. Mike Michaud, D, faces conservative bomb-thrower Gov. Paul LePage, R on Nov. 4.