An unprecedented wave of money from conservative groups with anonymous donors has swept into four North Carolina congressional races and helped lift Republican challengers into competitive positions against incumbents who were better known and in most cases better funded.
These groups, which bear generic-sounding names such as Americans for Job Security and the 60 Plus Association, have spent or committed to spend more than $3.3 million on advertising - nearly all of it for attack ads - in the four races widely regarded as the most competitive, those in the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 11th congressional districts. They have spent almost nothing in other House races.
That's more than the four Republican candidates have raised and more than the two parties spent on those elections.
It's also more than the $500,000 spent by all non-party independent groups on federal races in North Carolina during the 2006 mid-term election, according to the website opensecrets.org, which tracks campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The jump in spending was made possible in January when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on corporate and union political contributions to independent groups in a decision known as Citizens United. A possible shift in party control of the House of Representatives is fueling donors' interest, with more than 100 seats across the nation thought to be in play.
"The big difference in this election is the Citizens United decision, and the amounts that can be spent by these independent groups that were restricted on their spending, on taking corporation contributions and things like that," said Duke political science professor David Rohde. Democrats still have the edge in all forms of spending on the races, $7.32 million to $6.88 million for Republicans. But the new fundraising muscle that's being flexed by the independent groups has at least helped to even the odds for the challengers, which is a positive change, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University.
"We still see that traditional campaign finance - that is, contributing to candidates directly, then letting them spend it - is an incumbent's game," Taylor said. "Incumbents dominate that because of the power they have in Washington, because they have significant electoral advantages. They get re-elected generally at very high numbers and political action committees want to give to them and aren't very interested in giving to challengers."
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