In Colorado, Karl Rove (Gardner) beats Tom Steyer (Udall)

DENVER — The closely watched $94 million Colorado Senate race can be seen as a proxy fight between Karl Rove, the co-founder one of the nation’s ur-dark money groups, the conservative Crossroads GPS, and the hedge-fund-guru turned environmental Super PAC sugar daddy Tom Steyer.

Crossroads GPS sunk more money into negative ads against Udall than it did against any other candidate nationwide — $8.7 million.

And NextGen Climate Action Committee, the Super PAC funded largely through more than $55 million in infusions by Steyer, also spent more on negative ads against Gardner than any other candidate — $6.8 million.

Indeed, the two groups spent more than any other outside groups in the race except the more traditional sources of outside money, the party committees. They also nearly matched or outspent those party committees: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $8.1 million against Gardner; and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which spent $6 million against Udall.

And both groups are creatures of the new new political pantheon post-Citizens United. Crossroads GPS is a “social welfare” group organized under section 501(c)4 of the tax code and is not required to provide details about its donors. It opened its doors in 2010.  NextGen Climate Action Committee, on the other hand, is a Super PAC, which does disclose donors, but may accept unlimited amounts of cash from them–and those donors may be people in the broadest sense of the term, meaning corporations. It was founded in 2013.

Simply put, before the Citizens United decision in 2010, we wouldn’t have seen a Senate race where two outside groups, one of which does not disclose its donors and both of which may accept unlimited contributions, would account for nearly one out of every five dollars spent.

Of course other groups weighed in, too. The Colorado Senate race drew more dark money than any other race in the country — $35 million, or more than a third of the total spending in the race.

Among the other dark money groups that joined in the fray were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $2.1 million in support of Gardner and $1.6 million against Udall. The League of Conservation Voters‘ 501(c) arm spent $1.9 million against Gardner. Ending Spending, a conservative group looking to trim the federal budget, spent $1.8 million in favor of Gardner and $1.5 million against Udall. The full list can be seen here.

And demonstrating just how tricky it is to get the goods on donors even in the case of Super PACs, which must disclose donors, is the example of the group Women Supporting Cory Gardner. The group reported spending more than $81,000 opposing Udall. Who was its one donor? Well, that would be the Colorado Women’s Alliance. And what is the Colorado Women’s Alliance? A nonprofit group, founded in 2011, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. The group’s founder, Debbie Brown, has described it as a counterweight to “liberals obsessed with reproductive politics.” As a nonprofit, the group is not required to disclose its donors.

[ Image by Shellys.]