Outside groups help boost David Jolly to victory

Independent campaign efforts spent nearly $5 million to elect new Republican congressman

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Republican David Jolly tonight narrowly won Florida’s contentious 13th Congressional District election that attracted an astonishing $12.7 million as national partisans fought for bragging rights heading into November’s midterm election.

Outside groups spent nearly $5 million on Jolly's behalf, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of FEC records, including the National Republican Congressional Committee ($2.2 million), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($1.2 million), the American Action Network ($470,000) and American Crossroads ($470,000).

Outside allies — including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC — also sprung to vanquished Democrat Alex Sink’s defense, but their combined $3.7 million advertising blitz could not help lift her over the finish line. 

In all, Sink and Jolly controlled less than one-third of the $12.7 million that was pumped into the race.

Of the candidates' share, Jolly’s campaign was dramatically outraised by Sink's — $1.3 million versus $2.7 million — according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission reports.

Outside political groups spending more money than candidates during an election used to be exceedingly rare.

It's now becoming increasingly common during the big-money era following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in January 2010.

During the 2010 election cycle, party committees, super PACs and nonprofits outgunned the candidates themselves in a dozen House races, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by the Center for Responsive Politics. The phenomenon was repeated two years later in more than two dozen House races.

“Post Citizens United, this is the easiest money to raise, and these groups aren't leaving it to the candidates to determine what themes will dominate the race,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Outside groups may not determine the victor, but they'll very often determine the dialogue and what themes dominate the ads, news and public conversation,” she continued. “Candidates will have to raise even more money to compete.”

Neither the Sink nor Jolly campaign responded to requests for comment.

Tuesday’s special election was held to fill the vacancy created by the death of Republican Rep. Bill Young, who died in October.

Barack Obama carried Florida's 13th Congressional District by one percentage point in 2012.