The money flowing into campaigns to buy TV ads and send brochures to your mailbox is staggering.
And as David Corn notes elsewhere
, we may never know where much of this money comes from or exactly how much is spent. That's because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United
decision earlier this year, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts on election activities, and IRS rules that allow that money to flow through nonprofits that don't have to release their donors' names.
Using a spreadsheet downloaded
from the Federal Election Commission and reports from the Wesleyan Media Project
, which tracks and analyzes television advertising in federal elections, we crunched some numbers.
As of Friday morning, with 18 days to go to Nov. 2, here's how the spending shakes out:
Raised by House and Senate candidates, according to the FEC.
Spent by House and Senate candidates, according to the FEC.
Spent on television ads between Sept. 1 and Oct. 7, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.
Spent by outside groups trying to influence the general election, according to FEC records.
Spent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the general election.
Spent by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the general election.
Spent by outside groups on the U.S. Senate race and three congressional races in Colorado.
Spent by American Crossroads, one of Karl Rove's independent groups supporting GOP candidates in the general election.
Candidates will still raise and spend more money than outside groups this cycle, said Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan and director of media project. But outside spending is on the rise.
"We are seeing a strong increase in interest group activity, especially concentrated in the House," she said. "It's nearly doubled since 2008."
Not all of those groups must disclose their spending. The Wesleyan project tracks television ad spending in part through information gathered from television stations.
"Any groups that are nonprofits do not have to report their activity to the FEC and, in fact, they don't have to disclose their donors at all," Fowler said.
For instance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit, spent more than $9 million on television advertising between Sept. 1 and Oct. 7, according to the Wesleyan study released earlier this week
. That placed the Chamber second on the list of interest groups buying ads, behind the Republican Governors Association. Only two of Wesleyan's top 10 spenders on TV advertising leaned Democratic -- Bay State Future in Massachusetts and Citizens for Strength and Security.
And with the rate of spending skyrocketing virtually each day, the Wesleyan numbers are old news in a sense. In the Colorado Senate race between Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet
and Republican Ken Buck
, for instance, independent spending totaled $10.4 million through Sunday. By the end of the day Thursday, that spending exceeded $14.4 million. That race tops the nation for independent spending.
Buck and Bennet, who both faced difficult primaries, raised a total $13.3 million -- $10 million for Bennet, $3.3 million for Buck -- for the entire campaign through the end of September. It's one of several races around the country where candidates may end up being outspent by outside interests, ranging from political party groups to independent interests such as the Chamber, American Crossroads and others.
Pennsylvania's Senate race
between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey ranks second in outside general election spending at almost $9 million, followed by Missouri's Senate race
between Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan at $7.7 million.
Meanwhile, there's plenty of time for the outside spending to really accelerate. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $15.5 million
in September, and has $25.6 million to spend. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $8.3 million and has $19.2 million to spend. American Crossroads and its partners
are expected to spend $50 million in the next weeks.
"Certainly Citizens United fundamentally changed the landscape of the campaign, especially with direct effects on political advertising," Fowler said.