Report shines light on outrageous Senate race spending

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.

composite image via pixabay and pixabay, edited by Nat Stein


  1. This is THE problem with our entire political system. There is too much corruption floating around being called “campaign contributions”, when what they are is BUYING of congresspeople. Until ALL private money is removed from politics, and that ESPECIALLY includes corporate money, we will continue to have nothing but corruption and a system that works for big money and no one else. This is THE reason why people are fed up with politics in general, because all they see is big money getting what they want at the expense of everyone else. Why be excited about voting for things that don’t benefit you no matter what the outcome? It’s no wonder that less and less people vote.

    1) Establish a fund from pubic money that would pay for ALL elections and all campaigns involved. ONLY the money allocated for each race could be spent by any candidate. Not THEIR money, not corporate, family or friend’s money. Any violation on anyone’s part, giving or receiving, should result in jail time.

    2) Equal and comparable air time would be allotted for each candidate. TV and radio licenses don’t cost anything from the government, and they are essentially licenses to print money. There should be a cost in community service that goes along with it.

    3) No computerized voting machines. They are too easy to trick into doing whatever you want. They are computers, they are full of software that can be compromised very easily, as has been shown time and time again.

    4) NO more of the industry/congress/lobbyist revolving door that pollutes so much of our government today. A minimum of ten years between congress and either side of the trio should result in jail time.

    5)”No more corporations are people my friend” nonsense. Corporations are NOT people, they are artificial constructs intended to maximize profits and shield players from responsibility for their actions. This is essentially a club, at this point, there is NO reason why they should be able to influence our politics at all, especially since their only purpose is profit. This is NO reason to make the rest of us suffer and pay for their benefit.

    6) Shorten the time that elections are run to 90 days. If you can’t get your message out in that time and only want to run a campaign of destruction on the other guy, then at least this shortens it. Again, why should we all suffer?

    Coming up with a system isn’t that hard, you just have to put a little thought into things and then put it out there for discussion. You just might come up with something that benefits more than just the 1% and big business for a change.

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