The end of the U.S. Senate race in Colorado pitting incumbent Democrat Mark Udall against Republican challenger Cory Gardner is rapidly approaching, and the race may very well determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. With high stakes comes a high price.
How high is the price? the Sunlight Foundation – a nonpartisan nonprofit that works on transparency and accountability in government – has crunched the numbers. The organization’s report draws on data the candidates filed with the Federal Election Commission. For anyone who’s ever tried to wrangle campaign finance information from the FEC website, the Sunlight Foundation’s data visualizations are a treat.
Here’s what Sunlight found for the Centennial State race.
In the last two weeks, Colorado – along with North Carolina and Iowa – broke away from the pack, significantly outpacing spending in states featuring similarly competitive races.
Sunlight found the bulk of the cash is coming from the national parties. Since Oct. 12, the National Republican Senatorial Committee invested close to $4 million in Colorado’s Senate race (entirely in the form of ads that slam Udall,) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee invested more than $2 million (entirely in the form of ads that slam Gardner.)
The opposite dynamic is true at the national level, where the DSCC is outspending the NRSC.
The difference, the report points out, is in the debt. The DSCC’s FEC filings show that it’s relying heavily on borrowed cash to make media buys in battleground states like Colorado, whereas the NRSC’s show it’s still got plenty of money in the bank. Graphed weekly rather than cumulatively, another chart courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation shows the debt-ridden DSCC has tapered its spending in the last two weeks.
On the other hand, outside spending by dark money groups – political nonprofits whose donors are untraceable – is a category Republicans have dominated.
In Colorado, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is the biggest spender on political ads. Registered as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization, it dropped more than $10 million without having to disclose its donors.
Though Democrats are trailing in dark money spending and its national party committee is deep in the red, they do have a savior in the form of one billionaire philanthropist in California: former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer. His SuperPAC – NextGen Climate Action Committee – has spent nearly $7 million opposing Cory Gardner this cycle and still has more cash on hand than any other that filed in the latest reporting period.
In a race that the Rothenberg Political Report currently lists as “toss up/tilt Republican,” polling numbers may not tell you much about what’s going to happen on the night of the 4th. But with important work like this new Sunlight Foundation report, we’ll at least have an idea of how we got there.