Buying Hoosier Elections: Parties vs Nonparty Groups Revisited

Previously, I posted a district-by-district comparison showing that, compared to previous elections, we’re seeing a much larger amount of money being spent by groups that do not disclose their donors. I relied on several sources of information for this post, but especially liked the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group’s “Follow the Unlimited Money” site.

Now, the folks have Sunlight have done their own analysis, and confirmed that spending patterns in Indiana are not an anomaly. Paul Blumenthal writes, “This is a dramatic change from the 2006 midterms (as of October 19, 2006) when party committees accounted for eighty-two percent of all outside spending on independent expenditures and non-party aligned committees accounted for eighteen percent.” Or, to put it another way:

sunlight-outside-spendingSource: Sunlight Foundation blog 

As of October 25, the Sunlight Foundation found that:

Outside groups have disclosed spending some $347 million, of which $302 million directly advocates defeat or election of a federal candidate. Biggest chunk of that latter portion: Outside, non-party groups (including Super PACs and non-profits) opposing Democratic candidates ($73.5 million) followed by Democratic Party committees opposing Republican candidates ($66.4 million).

In the press around the state, coverage of this issue has been mixed. I was astonished to see this piece by Gannett’s Maureen Groppe, claiming, “The biggest players are the national parties.” While that is technically true, it actually obscures a basic trend. Other journalists around the state have done a better job of writing about outside money – on the Bloomington Herald Times’ Government Tracker blog, Chris Fyall provides context for the large expenditures from the DCCC and SEIU, pointing out that GOP challenger Todd Young’s backers have spent much more on the race than groups supporting Hill. And the Louisville Courier Journal’s Lesley Stedman Weidenbener, one of the most consistently excellent state politics reporters, wrote a strong piece called “Outside groups spending more to oust Rep. Baron Hill than to reelect him.

I’d like to revisit the numbers from my earlier post with newer information as the campaigns roll into the final days. The contest between Baron Hill and Todd Young has now drawn more than $3.3 million in outside spending, and is one of the 25 most expensive House races in the country. In the last week, we’ve seen big expenditures from both parties, the SEIU, and a small handful of conservative-aligned groups.

Supporting Hill $168,786.36 4.99% DCCC TOTAL $1,376,746.34 40.73%
Opposing Hill $1,499,012.86 44.34% NRCC TOTAL $851,112.63 25.18%
Supporting Young $88,719.39 2.62% PARTY TOTAL $2,227,858.97 65.91%
Opposing Young $1,623,877.24 48.04%      
Totals $3,380,395.85 100.00%      

As we’ve neared Election Day, independent expenditures by the party committees has increased, while the nonparty outside groups have slowed their spending. But we have seen new spending by conservative groups like Freedom Works and former New York Governor George Pataki’s anti-health reform Revere America. And, echoing trends throughout the state, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has gotten involved on behalf of Todd Young. Ostensibly anti-abortion groups like the Family Research Council, National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, and Americans United for Life have stepped up their spending opposing the pro-life Baron Hill.

While the party committees have traded large expenditures in the 9th over the last week or so, making them the biggest spenders in this race, the DCCC and NRCC have still combined for less than 2/3 of total spending in this race. Outside groups have spent nearly $1 million since January, and more if you include SEIU’s ads in support of Hill in 2009. That marks a major shift for a race that saw about 98% of 2006 expenditures from party committees, and at least 88% of expenditures in 2008 from the party committees.

The biggest spenders opposing Baron Hill are the NRCC ($851,000), the American Future Fund ($287,000), and the New Prosperity Foundation ($281,500). The only spenders opposing Todd Young are the DCCC ($1.37 million) and SEIU ($178,000). In addition, MoveOn has spent just over $2,000 supporting Baron Hill after its members voted to endorse the conservative Blue Dog Democrat. The Democratic-allied Citizens for Strength and Security, a 527 group that lists the same law office address as several other Democratic groups, has spent about $69,000 on “electioneering communications,” but I haven’t seen their ads and can’t find any of their Indiana ads online.

Unlike the conservative groups, though, the SEIU offers far more disclosure of its donors and operations:

While they aren’t required by the FEC or IRS to disclose donors, a separate piece of federal law, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, requires that unions disclose all sources of income that adds up to more than $5,000, a requirement overseen by the Department of Labor. As a result, unions disclose more than many political groups about their internal operations, and certainly more than than do 501(c)(4) nonprofits like Crossroads GPS or 501(c)(6) groups like the Chamber.

As Jon Youngdahl, political director for the union, wrote in the Washington Post: “Anyone who wants to know where SEIU political dollars come from can go on the Internet and check out the detailed public reports all unions and their political action committees are required to file with the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Labor Department.” SIEU has spent about $10.5 million on independent expenditures in 2010.

Similarly, MoveOn formally closed their 527 arm in the 2008 campaign, and hadn’t used it since the 2004 race. They file the same disclosure as any other PAC. MoveOn has spent less than $1 million on independent expenditures in 2010. The Sierra Club, who doesn’t disclose its donors, isn’t exactly a secret or new organization. They’ve spent less than $1.5 million total in 2010.

Up in Indiana’s 2nd District, the money just keep pouring in, now totaling more than $3.5 million. This race is not only the most expensive race in the state, it’s also ranked as the 18th most expensive House race in the country.

Supporting Donnelly $645,448.00 18.35% DCCC TOTAL $770,760.74 21.92%
Opposing Donnelly $1,555,763.36 44.24% NRCC TOTAL $562,969.13 16.01%
Electioneering (vs Donnelly) $493,520.00 14.03% PARTY TOTAL $1,333,729.87 37.92%
Supporting Walorski $51,286.59 1.46% 60 Plus Assoc $397,020.74 11.29%
Opposing Walorski $770,760.74 21.92% Natl Assn Realtors $587,058.00 16.69%
Totals $3,516,778.69 100.00% Crossroads $402,722.12 11.45%

Some of the players here are the same as the ones in the 9th District. The Indiana Chamber has spent $43,000 in support of the GOP challenger, state representative Jackie Walorski. And the same (ostensibly) anti-abortion groups are also targeting the pro-life incumbent Congressman, Joe Donnelly. Other spenders have included Freedom Works and Americans for Tax Reform.

As the table above shows, while the DCCC and NRCC are nominally the biggest spenders, the party committees have combined for less than 38% of total expenditures in this race. Through their various arms, the National Association of Realtors (supporting Donnelly) and American Crossroads (opposing Donnelly) have combined for nearly a million dollars in outside spending. And that still doesn’t account for the 60 Plus Association ($397,000), the American Action Network ($319,000), the New Prosperity Foundation ($148,000), Susan B. Anthony List ($153,500), or the US Chamber of Commerce ($39,000) – all spent in opposition to Donnelly.

This competitive race also shows a marked difference from past elections. In the 2006 campaign, this District saw only 76% of independent expenditures coming from party committees, less than the national average. This year, we’ve seen three different outside groups each spending a comparable amount to the total nonparty expenditures from 2006.

This is the 5th entry in a series of posts looking at independent expenditures in Indiana elections. For previous entries, see: