As the Republican Party marches toward a tea party vs. establishment brawl, or even hurtles toward political civil war, conservative super PACs and nonprofits are helping bankroll the journey.
One in five dollars spent by all super PACs, nonprofit groups and the like on election advocacy came from identifiably conservative groups attacking Republican congressional candidates, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign disclosures covering Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.
Liberal political groups, in contrast, didn't spent a dime roughing up Democrats during this time, focusing their efforts exclusively on promoting Democrats or bashing Republicans.
In all, conservative groups spent more than $2.3 million on negative ads targeting Republican candidates, according to FEC records.
That's more than the $2.1 million conservative groups spent overtly advocating against the election of Democratic candidates.
Their activity also represents a dramatic shift in political strategy from the same block of time during 2010 midterm elections, when conservative organizations didn't spend cash attacking GOP hopefuls at all, federal records from the time show.
Then, political groups were just making sense of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that the Supreme Court dropped in late January 2010. It allowed corporations, unions and certain nonprofits to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against candidates.
Overall, the money that outside political groups have invested in "independent expenditures" — messages that either promote or pummel a federal political candidate — has increased exponentially from four years ago.
Collectively, these organizations spent just $1.92 million in January and February of 2010, as Democrats and Republicans fought for control of Congress, much of which focused on the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts that Republican Scott Brown ultimately won.
This year, groups have spent about six times that amount — about $11.6 million, federal records show.
While some of this money is targeting candidates in special elections such as the one in Florida's 13th Congressional District, where Republican David Jolly faces off with Democrat Alex Sink next week, most is flowing into partisan primaries.
Conservative groups attempting to defeat Republican candidates fit several profiles.