In a district much more Republican than average, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford tonight survived an onslaught from allies of Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, to win a seat in Congress.
Supporters of Colbert Busch spent nearly $1 million on advertisements criticizing the GOP's scandal-singed Sanford ahead of the special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Most of these groups were based in Washington, D.C.
But during the election's final week, Sanford’s allies more than achieved spending parity: They reported making $157,000 in independent expenditures that either advocated for his election or against that of Colbert Busch, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of FEC records.
Colbert Busch’s allies reported spending about $152,000 on such independent expenditures during the race's final week.
That 11th-hour rush of cash helped reverse what had, to that point, proven to be anemic outside support for Sanford. Super PACs, political action committees and nonprofit groups overall spent less than $200,000 on ads that expressly advocated for Sanford's election or Colbert Busch's defeat.
Sanford-aligned groups included FreedomWorks, Independent Women’s Voice and the National Right to Life Committee.
Some pro-Sanford ads made the argument that a vote for Colbert Busch equated to a "vote for Nancy Pelosi," the highest ranking House Democrat who hails from San Francisco.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the deep-pocketed super PAC known as House Majority PAC, which backs House Democrats, accounted for the bulk of spending on Colbert Busch's behalf.
The DCCC alone reported spending about $460,000 on anti-Sanford independent expenditures while House Majority PAC spent about $430,000 on negative ads, federal disclosures indicate.
The DCCC's Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, decided against supporting Sanford — he cheated on his now-former wife while serving as governor and this week faces charges he trespassed in her house — with financial resources.
Colbert Busch's campaign committee itself raised more than $1.1 million as April 17, according to federal campaign finance records.
Both those figures will assuredly increase when the campaigns release final financial reports next month.
The vacancy in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District arose when Republican Rep. Tim Scott was tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat after he resigned to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C.
Sanford first served in Congress from 1995 to 2001.