Outside Groups Rival Parties in Spending in Closest House Races

Photograph by Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune/AP Photo

Rep. Chip Cravaack, left, R-North Branch, listens as Democratic challenger Rick Nolan makes a point during a candidates’ debate in the Duluth Playhouse on Oct. 9, 2012, in Duluth, Minn.

Outside groups are spending as much as the national party committees in the closest U.S. House races, and together they’ve outspent the candidates in almost half of those contests, according to a report released today.

Super-PACs and non-profit groups spent $24.8 million, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee together spent $24.9 million through September in the 25 contests the nonpartisan Cook Political Report identified on Oct. 5 as the closest in the nation. That’s according to findings from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The House candidates have accounted for about 60 percent of the spending in the 25 districts, compared to about 40 percent for the party committees and outside groups. In 11 of the 25 districts, the non-candidate spending has exceeded the candidate spending.

They include the northeastern Minnesota district sought by Republican incumbent Chip Cravaack and Democratic former Representative Rick Nolan, who have been outspent by more than two to one by the party committees and outside groups including the pro-Cravaack American Action Network and the pro-Nolan AFSCME and House Majority PAC.

The findings underscore how super-PACs and non-profit groups operate as shadow political parties and help shape the outcome of races. The groups can’t coordinate their spending with candidates, though they can plot strategy with each other.

The outside spending totals reflect expenditures that have been reported to the Federal Election Commission, the Brennan report said. Spending on so-called issue ads that non-profit groups ran early in the campaign didn’t have to be reported to the FEC.

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