Buying Hoosier Elections, Then and Now

This is the 3rd installment in a series of posts. See my previous entries:

Independent expenditures (IEs) have been a staple of competitive races in Indiana for some time, but the 2010 elections have a real quantitative and qualitative difference. And while, for some races, outside expenditures have decreased, the source of those funds has dramatically shifted.

9th District

Let’s start by looking at the always-competitive 9th District.

In 2006, this race turned into one of the most expensive in the country as Baron Hill tried to reclaim the Congressional seat from Mike Sodrel – nearly $6.5 million in outside funds was spent here in southern Indiana. But almost all of that money came from the two major parties’ congressional committees – in fact, FEC data shows that 97.77% of all independent expenditures in IN-9 during the 2006 election came from the NRCC or the DCCC.

I found about $5,000 (or 0.08% of the total) spent in this race by a 501(c)(4) organization that does not have to disclose its donors – in this case, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

A exact comparison to the 2008 cycle is harder to come by, but it looks like somewhere between 88%-95% of outside spending came from the congressional committees. Total IEs were around $1.6 million.

So far in 2010 – using numbers up to and including October 13 – independent expenditures have totaled just under $1.4 million. The NRCC & DCCC have combined for just under 57% of all outside IEs in the 9th District. Groups that don’t disclose their donors – including 527s, 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(6) groups – have spent more than $400,000, and every penny of that has gone to oppose Baron Hill.

To recap: the amount of money coming from outside groups other than the major congressional committees has increased from around 2% in 2006 to more than 40% in 2010. The amount coming from groups that don’t disclose their donors has increased from $5,000 in 2006 to more than $400,000 in 2010.

8th District

Next door, in the 8th District, the numbers look a little different.

In 2006, independent expenditures totaled over $4.2 million, as then-Sheriff Brad Ellsworth defeated GOP incumbent John Hostettler. More than $4 million of that total came from the NRCC and the DCCC, or about 95.6% of the total. In addition to a small amount from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, the National Right To Life PAC, AFSCME, SEIU, and Move On PAC contributed to the race.

The PACs and nonprofits spent less than $6300 on behalf of Ellsworth, while the conservative PAC spent about $21,000 on behalf of Hostettler.

In 2008, this race was significantly quieter, attracting less than $3600 in total IEs as Ellsworth cruised to an easy re-election against Republican Greg Goode.

In 2010, with Ellsworth choosing to run for Senate, the open seat has attracted more than $550,000, all of it on behalf of GOP candidate Larry Bucshon. Less than 1/3 of that money has come from the NRCC, and the DCCC has chosen to remain on the sidelines in this campaign. That means that more than 67% of the outside money being spent on this race has come from PACs or nonprofits. As I wrote in the initial entry in this series, more than $355,000 – or just over 64% of total IEs in this race – has come from the PO box of Americans for Job Security.

To recap, non-party independent expenditures in Indiana’s 8th District have increased from 4% in 2006 to more than 67% in 2010.

2nd District

Up in the 2nd District, Indiana’s most expensive Congressional race has attracted several national groups.

In 2006, IEs totaled almost $1.7 million as challenger Joe Donnelly defeated incumbent GOP Chris Chocola. More than $1.3 million came from the DCCC and NRCC, making up more than 76% of total independent expenditures. This race also attracted funds from a variety of other groups, including:

* Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund
* Move On
* National Right to Life
* National Rifle Association
* Safari Club International
* Club for Growth
* Associated General Contractors of America

Move On’s PAC was the biggest non-party spender in the race, spending more than $246,000, or less than 15% of total IEs.

In 2008, this race attracted little outside money, as IEs were just over $11,000 and Donnelly cruised to re-election over Republican Luke Puckett. (I’ll be honest – I had to look this one up, as I couldn’t even remember who the GOP candidate was in ’08.)

In 2010, this race has attracted more than $1.7 million in independent expenditures, with the party committees making up about $672,000, or less than 39% of the total. In contrast, the 60 Plus Association – whose fundraising pieces brag that they can raise unlimited sums of money and don’t disclose their donors – has spent more than $393,000 on this race so far, or almost 23% of all IEs. That’s one group spending the same relative amount to what all the groups listed above spent in 2006.

To recap, non-party independent expenditures in Indiana’s 2nd District have increased from about 23% in 2006 to more than 61% in 2010.


It’s hard to find a good historical context for Indiana’s open Senate seat. But this year’s numbers are revealing on their own.

For the general election, outside IEs have remained fairly low in this race – only about $341,000. But more than 73% of that amount – $250,000 – came from the US Chamber of Commerce to oppose Brad Ellsworth. And, so far, not a single dollar has been spent by the national campaign committees for the major parties. The state Republicans have put up just over $12,500 – or 3.68% of total IEs – on behalf of Dan Coats. So, non-party independent expenditures in this year’s Indiana Senate race make up more than 96% of the outside money spent on this race.


It’s clear that the amount of essentially untraceable money flowing into Indiana elections has drastically increased over the past 4 years. And, as an article in yesterday’s USA Today pointed out, it’s not like media time is very expensive in most Indiana races. In the 9th District, for example, a 30-second TV spot costs about $300. That means that the $80,000 the New Prosperity Foundation just spent on TV ads against Baron Hill could run their ad 266 times. That’s more than 2 hours of negative advertising that anonymous donors are inflicting on Southern Indiana.

In short, this outside money is here. We don’t know where it’s coming from. And it will have an impact on our elections.

Methodology note: While the FEC broke down detailed IEs by race for the 2006 election, they don’t seem to have done a comparable workup for 2008. I’ve based my 2008 numbers off aggregate numbers from Open Secrets and other organizations, and selective sport-checking with the FEC’s IE notices. In some cases, there are differences in the totals – but this seems to be mostly a function of different start/end dates for the election cycles and sometimes excluding “Electioneering Communications” from the IE totals. For the purpose of these numbers, I’ve included electioneering communications with other IEs.