Campaign spending to influence key Senate races has risen dramatically since the landmark Supreme Court case five years ago that struck down restrictions on political contributions by companies, associations and labor unions, says a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice.
Since the Citizens United decision, spending by outside groups — those not affiliated with political candidates —increased from $220 million to $486 million between 2010 and 2014, according to research group Center for Responsive Politics.
In addition, the amount of dark money — political spending by social welfare organizations and other groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors — doubled to more than $226 million in the last election cycle.
“The post-Citizens United numbers paint a daunting picture: Outside money driven mostly by a few wealthy donors now surpasses even spending by candidates themselves…giving those donors a level of election influence unprecedented in modern American history,” said Ian Vandewalker, the report’s author, citing data reported to the Federal Election Commission.
Eleven toss-up races attracted the vast majority of the outside contributions in 2014 — 90 percent of overall spending on Senate campaigns. In those races, spending by outside groups exceeded the amount spent by the actual candidates.
The Brennan Center report also found that 60 percent of the $1 billion in total campaign funds received by Super PACs — which can raise unlimited sums independently but cannot spend that money directly on candidates — came from just 195 wealthy donors and their spouses.
The report also discussed the growth in 2014 of “single-candidate groups,” or “buddy groups,” which raise money for a specific candidate. Those organizations rely heavily on donors who have already given the maximum amount directly to their preferred politician’s campaign — what’s known as “double dipping.”
The Brennan Center report was unveiled on Wednesday at a press conference in Washington D.C., along with separate findings from seven other watchdog groups, including Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
Andrew Perez, a co-author of Public Citizen’s report, said the new data highlights glaring problems with the campaign finance system. “Unregulated groups that are essentially extensions of the candidates and parties just serve to subvert existing contribution limits,” he said.
U.S. PIRG, which tracks the political influence of interest groups, argued in its report, “The Money Chase,” that the country needs to move away from dependence on big donors to a “small donor democracy.”
The group said that Senate candidates must raise an average of more than $3,300 every day for six years in order to collect as much as the median winner last year. Relying solely on donors who give less than $200, candidates would have to secure at least 17 new donors each day. The report’s bottom line: many intelligent, qualified and ambitious candidates don’t make it to Capitol Hill because of a failure to attract big piles of campaign cash.
“You find out very quickly this is not about who has the best ideas,” said Rev. Michael Walrond, who lost his race last year against 22-term incumbent Congressman Charles Rangel, D-NY. “This is about who has the most money.”