(This post has been updated to correct an incorrectly coded observation in the data we obtained from the FEC)
Think this is an anti-Washington election? Think again.
Of the approximately $129 million that outside groups have spent so far trying to influence midterm congressional elections from Alaska to Florida, about $81.5 million — 63 percent — was spent in Washington or its suburbs, an analysis of campaign expenditure data by the Sunlight Foundation has found. In fact, about 37 percent of the total was spent at companies within the District of Columbia city limits itself.
The money ended up in the pockets of a familiar cast of well-connected Beltway insiders, according to an analysis of data compiled from Sunlight’s Influence Explorer. While the outside money — on pace to break records before November’s midterm elections — is being spent to influence elections from Alaska to Florida, most businesses in those states rarely see a dime.
To cite just one study in contrasts:
Waterfront Strategies, a powerhouse Democratic media buyer housed in a riverfront office in Washington’s posh Georgetown neighborhood, has raked in more than $33 million during the 2014 election cycle from outside spending groups. Meanwhile at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Canton, Miss., an apparently hungry or thirsty staffer for FreedomWorks spent a not-so-whopping $2.13.
Outside spending has been particularly focused on North Carolina’s Senate race since the beginning of the 2014 campaign cycle. Groups not affiliated with the candidates, but working to help boost or defeat them, have spent a combined $11.46 million on the race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. In Mississippi, outside groups spent about $11.7 million on the race between GOP Sen. Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, the Tea-Party backed challenger whom Cochran narrowly defeated in a runoff last month.
States where outside money is being spent on congressional races. Darker colors indicate more spending.
Top targets of outside money as of July 9.
The outside spending went primarily to media buyers, according to our analysis, which means eventually these funds were spent buying up airtime at local radio and television stations, (after the media buyers themselves took a healthy commission, of course…) You can search ad buys by market on Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth. Waterfront Strategies was far and away the largest recipient with most of that money coming from the Democratic super PAC “Senate Majority PAC.”
Main Street Media Group, a company which, the Huffington Post reports, has no website and a post office box in the Virginia suburbs of Washington for an address, came in second. Main Street collected about $9.5 million this cycle from a raft of conservative dark money groups such as Karl Rove affiliated American Crossroads and two groups who spent a combined $4.7 million opposing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Where independent expenditure groups spent money in the 2014 cycle.
Towards the bottom of the list, the purchases get much less pricy, a lot more local and (literally) greasy.
Koch-brothers affiliated FreedomWorks Inc. spent $3.93 at a McDonalds in Bowman, S.C. and $7.89 at an Arby’s in Orangeburg, S.C. FreedomWorks hunger pangs apparently were greater in neighboring Skyland, N.C., where the group reported spending $86.03 at French Fryz, a local fast food chain. However, it wasn’t until Boise, Idaho that Freedomworks really let untightened their belts, coughing up $203.73 at Casa Mexico, “Idaho’s most authentic Mexican food,” according to the restaurant’s website.