Gardner and Udall have raised and spent millions, but the real money is independent

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N what’s shaping up to be one of the most influential congressional races in the nation, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall raised $1.74 million during April and May and spent just over $2 million. His Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, raised just over $1.5 million and spent roughly $600,000.

Right now Udall reports having more than $5.5 million left to spend on the race. Gardner has just over $3 million in the bank.

This last quarter represented a major fundraising peak for Gardner, whose fundraising figures only began to approach Udall’s at the beginning of this year and who has consistently spent less than the Democratic incumbent. But while the money the candidates themselves are drawing to their official campaigns may be an indication of general support and momentum, the real money is not being spent by the candidates themselves, but by outsiders who either support or oppose them.

As you can see in the chart below, drawn from information recorded by the Sunlight Foundation, most of the big money is attaching itself to Cory Gardner’s name, for better or worse. Gardner saw over a million dollars in support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but he’s also seen more than $2 million in opposition spending from the Senate Majority PAC alone — a clear indication that this race is top priority for Democrats hoping to hold the Senate.

Money spent on elections outside of a candidate’s campaign is difficult to track. SuperPACs, which are prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates, do report donors and electioneering spending — communications which mention candidates and make assertions about their fitness for office. However, unlike SuperPACs, political nonprofits known as  501(c)(4) s don’t have to report much of their spending, or any of their donors, though their efforts too shapes the issues — like energy or reproductive rights — that can decide an election. As such, it can be hard for voters to get a clear picture of the exact motivations behind many political ads.

Reported outside spending attributed to pro- and anti- Udall groups has actually been fairly thin so far. The Conservative Majority fund has put just over $30,000 into opposing Udall, mostly spending that money on voter outreach. The League of Conservation Voters (a group which has spent almost as much as the Senate Majority PAC opposing Gardner) has spent just a few thousand dollars in direct support of Udall, mostly to pay for staff time to send out fundraising emails on his behalf.

In total the Sunlight Foundation estimates that by the end of June more than $5 million in outside spending had already been poured into the race for a grand total of nearly $13 million when combined with the candidate’s spending.


Edit note: The first version of this story mis-stated the reporting requirements for SuperPACs, which do have to report their donors (though donors are often obscured when 501(c)(4)s contribute to PACs).