How Big Money Is Shaping the Midterm Elections

A wave of cash from special interests and small-time donors floods DC

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Money is playing an outsized role in this fall's midterm elections. On Monday, two political stories punctuated that fact. First off, interest-group spending has increased fivefold from 2006, with conservative organizations outspending liberal ones by 7 to 1. Then comes news that Democratic National Committee had a "startlingly strong" month, raising $16 million in September—its biggest month in nearly a decade. How will this affect each party's prospects? Pundits weigh in:

  • GOP Spending Could Kill Dems, writes liberal blogger Ezra Klein at The Washington Post:

Special interest groups have increased their spending fivefold since the 2006 election ... And yes, that money is going pretty much where you'd expect: Democrats have been outspent 7:1 in recent weeks.

That's a lot of cash. Gamechanger cash, in fact. And it highlights one of the Democrats' odder difficulties going into the election. They've passed a lot of high-profile laws that were about restraining corporate behavior ... The health-care reform bill, for instance... The GOP has effectively attacked them for this, arguing that the Democrats have sold out to various corporations. At the same time, those same corporations hate those laws, small concessions to them notwithstanding, and are now pumping millions of dollars into the GOP's 2010 campaign.

So the Republicans are simultaneously able to stand against corporate interests and get funded by them, and in the post-Citizens United world, there are few limits, or even disclosure requirements, able to shine light on their play.

  • Now You Whine About Money, writes conservative blogger William Teach at Stop the ACLU: "Funny how the big players in the media weren’t so concerned back in 2006, when the money was pouring in from liberal groups, a good chunk funded by George Soros. Nor were they concerned about donations from the shadows in 2008, when Mickey Mouse and the Dallas Cowboys players where sending in donations under $200."

  • The Democrats' Record Haul Should Help, writes liberal blogger Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly:

A report like this suggests the listless Democratic rank and file are getting back in the game -- more than 80% of September's total came from smaller online and direct-mail contributions. Indeed, major progressive donors who were prepared to sit out the cycle may very well see these reports, see a hint of momentum, and feel more inclined to pick up their checkbook.

Just as importantly, there's an obvious practical benefit from having these millions on hand, ready to be invested in the midterms -- all of the money will immediately go to key states and districts for advertising, GOTV efforts, and field operations.

  • Big Money on Both Sides, acknowledges liberal blogger Kevin Drum at Mother Jones: "The last time I wrote about this I was reminded that the action isn't all on the conservative side: ActBlue is on track to distribute $80 million to Democratic candidates this cycle. That's a pretty impressive number. When it comes to outside interest groups, however, the GOP pretty much owns the airwaves."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.