National political groups are bigfooting their way into state elections through ad campaigns, part of a growing trend in which groups independent from candidates or parties are taking a larger role in shaping the narratives of political campaigns.
A Washington, D.C.-based group funneled millions of dollars from a New Jersey teachers union into TV ads about the Garden State’s General Assembly races. A billionaire’s gun safety group broadcast its gun control messages in Virginia legislative races, possibly testing them for 2016. And two large partisan associations obscured their affiliations by funding lesser-known groups with more innocuous names voters would not recognize in the Kentucky and Louisiana gubernatorial races, with mixed results.
In total, 33 outside groups poured more than $32 million into their own political ads this year, accounting for more than one-third of the estimated $86 million in broadcast TV ad spending in the seven states with major races, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
That represents more than 1 in 4 political spots aired, compared with fewer than 1 in 5 ads in both 2011 when the same states had comparable races and in 2014 when major races occurred in 45 states.
“In the past four election cycles or maybe more, there has been a growing nationalization of money in state and local elections,” said Michael Malbin, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington think tank studying money and politics. “People who want to make change in policy are looking increasingly at state and local politics, and there is an increased capacity of these national organizations to raise money and distribute it.”