Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity tracked political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate, state-level offices and state ballot measures. Use these three interactive features to see who was calling the shots and where the money was spent.
Republican candidates wagered that big bucks from outside political groups could overcome their own fundraising shortfalls ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
They were right. On Tuesday night, Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in eight years.
In many of the states the GOP won Tuesday, Republican candidates themselves didn’t primarily execute what proved to be a wildly successful strategy of linking Democratic candidates — from Colorado to North Carolina — to an increasingly unpopular President Barack Obama and his policies.
Instead, deep-pocketed conservative groups — including a cluster of groups tied to Republican strategist Karl Rove and a network of groups backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — together sponsored hundreds of thousands of TV ads that relentlessly attacked Democrats for their ties to Obama.
The prominence in 2014 of non-party groups such as super PACs and politically active nonprofits underscores the way election funding has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010.
Democrats, who enjoyed a six-seat Senate majority going into Election Day, attempted to defend themselves from an expected Republican onslaught.
Numerous incumbent Democrats outraised their GOP rivals, and liberal donors dug deep to support a pro-Democratic super PAC — Senate Majority PAC — that became the top sponsor of Senate-focused campaign ads this election cycle. Democrats even dabbled in so-called “dark money” through secretive nonprofit groups, such as Patriot Majority USA, that don’t disclose their donors.
But it wasn’t enough. Republicans are now predicted to control at least 52 U.S. Senate seats next year.
“When the outside money comes in in substantial amounts, you don’t have to make any choices,” Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said about Republicans’ midterm resources.
Had Republican candidates been left to their own, Ornstein continued, “my guess is you would not have seen nearly as much money going into places like Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire — even Alaska.”