Outside groups have spent $120 million on television ads so far in the 2014 election cycle, with a record number from organizations funded by “dark money.” That’s according to a new study from the Wesleyan Media Project in partnership with Open Secrets, which found that the torrent of money spent on campaign ads this year in Senate and House races is already outpacing the 2012 cycle.
The top-spending group so far this year, according to the study, is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is affiliated with the Koch brothers and spent $16.7 million on ads through the end of August backing Republican candidates. AFP’s status as a top spender is particularly noteworthy because as a 501(c)4 organization the group does not have to disclose its donors. Overall, dark money groups have spent more than $68 million on television ads in federal races already in the 2014 cycle.
Democrats aren’t going down without a fight, though. Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that does disclose its donors, has spent almost as much money as AFP in 2014, on ads promoting Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in 10 states.
But Democrats are at a huge disadvantage in outside spending, the study found. Although Democratic candidates for Senate have spent almost $47 million on television ads already, just $4 million less than Republican candidates, for every $1 an outside group supporting Democratic Senate candidates has spent, a pro-GOP group has spent $1.80. That imbalance is even worse in House races where Democrats are “getting trounced” by Republicans, the Wesleyan Media Project writes.
Two months remain before Election Day, and spending on campaigns will likely increase by leaps and bounds as both candidates and outside groups pour money into key races. It’s unclear whether the GOP advantage, if it holds, will help much at the ballot box. After all, the study tracked only the money spent on campaign ads on television, not spending on any other form of voter contact, from field staff to direct mail. It also didn’t track whether the ads are any good and how many people are watching. But the study does provide a leading indicator that elections are getting more expensive and increasingly dominated by dark money groups and super PACs.