Six months ahead of the election, super PACs have already spend more than $12 million in congressional races, according to data compiled for TPM by the Center for Responsive Politics.
While super PACs have already had a major impact in the Republican presidential primary, observers expect state-level super PAC spending in Senate and House races to have an even bigger impact than it has in the presidential race. A total of 24 separate races have already received an influx of more than $100,000 in super PAC funds, money with much more potential to swing local races than it does national.
So far, the race for Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar’s seat has seen the most super PAC money, with $2.5 million in the race, most of it against the Indiana Republican or in support of his primary opponent. Tea Party Republicans are backing state treasurer Richard Mourdock, and FreedomWorks alone has spent over half a million in the race.
American Crossroads, the massive Republican super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove, is keeping mum on its specific plans, though it has said it will spend millions on behalf of Republican candidates. A spokesman for American Crossroads declined to elaborate on their plans but said the group was “focused on doing everything we can to help the Republican majority in the Senate and keep the majority in the House.”
Democrats trying to raise money for such groups are put in an awkward position, as many potential donors oppose the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.
“I think it’s very hard for them to turn around and start raising this money, although not impossible,” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation told TPM.
Democrats say super PACs are necessary for them to stay competitive in races that were hit by an influx of super PAC money in 2010.
“The pitch is that we are the firewall against outside Republican money,” Andy Stone of House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, told TPM. “We all know what happened last cycle, in so many close races where Republican outside groups came in at the last minute, dumped a whole much of money and ended up winning the race. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen this cycle.”
Allison said that super PAC money can often benefit challengers most.
“The problem that every challenger has is name recognition. What super PACs are able to do is drive up the negatives of their opponent while creating a warm, fuzzy image of their candidate,” Allison said. “It’s a huge equalizer for challengers I think.”