Outside groups have poured a record $42 million into the hotly contested Missouri Senate race, a bonanza that dwarfs expenditures by both candidates’ own campaigns, public records show.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt’s battle to keep his seat against Democratic challenger Jason Kander unexpectedly has become one of the closest races in the country. Recent polls show a virtual tie between 66-year-old Blunt, a veteran lawmaker, and Kander, Missouri’s 35-year-old secretary of state.
The outcome of the race could decide which party holds a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.
$42 million The amount of outside spending in the Missouri Senate race
“Who controls the Senate next year will have national implications, so it’s not a surprise to see such large sums of money pouring into Missouri,” said Michael Beckel, a campaign finance reporter at the Center for Public Integrity.
“It’s a big prize for both Democrats and Republicans,” Beckel said, “and they’re putting big sums into the fight to win that prize.”
Blunt’s campaign committee has spent more than $13 million so far to fund his re-election effort. Kander has spent nearly $9 million.
Outside groups, though, have independently spent about $42 million on the race, according to Federal Election Commission records.
That total far outstrips the $14 million in outside spending during the 2012 contest between Missouri’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Rep. Todd Akin. And it quadruples the $10.4 million worth of outside spending in Blunt’s 2010 Senate race against Democrat Robin Carnahan.
Among the biggest contributors are committees linked to party leaders and special interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog group. Here are some other details:
What we’re seeing is an all-time record when it comes to outside spending throughout the nation in all federal races.
Craig Holman, Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group
▪ The Democrats’ campaign arm for the Senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has spent $7 million to defeat Blunt.
Both Blunt and Kander have received more large donations from outside the state than from inside the state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
▪ The liberal Senate Majority PAC, a group tied to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has spent about half a million on Kander’s behalf.
▪ The Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP strategist Karl Rove, has sunk $10 million into efforts to beat Kander, including $2 million last week alone.
▪ The National Rifle Association has poured $2 million into the race to defeat Kander. The “dark money” lobbying arm of the NRA, the Institute for Legislative Action, has added about $900,000.
▪ End Citizens United, a liberal PAC dedicated to campaign finance reform, has spent $1.4 million to defeat Blunt.
▪ Americans for Prosperity, a “dark money” nonprofit group founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, spent $1.3 million against Kander.
▪ Another “dark money” nonprofit, Majority Forward, is affiliated with the Reid-allied Senate Majority PAC. It has spent nearly $2 million to help Kander.
The massive rise in outside spending is part of a national trend.
“What we’re seeing is an all-time record when it comes to outside spending throughout the nation in all federal races,” said Craig Holman, who lobbies on campaign finance for Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group and think tank.
Holman said outside spending dramatically increased since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. That ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on efforts to elect or defeat certain candidates.
The money flowing from outside groups such as trade associations, party committees, nonprofits and political action committees cannot be spent in coordination with the candidates.
But outside groups don’t have to abide by the same rules as candidates’ campaign committees. So-called “dark money” nonprofits, for example, can keep their donors secret, and Super PACs have no limit on how much they can raise or spend.
“It’s an amazing failure of our campaign finance regime,” Holman said.
“We had decades of having reasonable limits on money in politics and full transparency on where the money’s coming from, and now with the Citizens United decision, we’re seeing an explosion of outside spending. And for much of that, we don’t know where that money’s coming from,” he said. “It could even be coming from foreign sources, we really don’t know. We’re seeing the most expensive messiest and darkest election in history.”
It has a tendency to just alienate many voters. Ironically, the effect may be a downturn in voter turnout in Missouri.
Craig Holman, Public Citizen
Letting outside groups dominate the campaign can add to the negative tone of a race, Holman said, because the candidates don’t have to associate themselves with attack ads or nasty mailers.
“Candidates will talk about their positive features,” he said. “Outside groups do not. All they do is attack, usually with innuendo and false premises, and it makes the campaigns very difficult for voters to understand. And it has a tendency to just alienate many voters. Ironically, the effect may be a downturn in voter turnout in Missouri.”
Both Blunt and Kander now also have received more large donations from outside the state than from inside the state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Blunt has received 53 percent of contributions larger than $200 from outside Missouri, for a total of about $4.1 million, while Kander has gotten nearly $3.4 million worth of large donations from out of state, or 58 percent.
Those big out-of-state donors may not have the same concerns as residents of Missouri, said Beckel, of the Center for Public Integrity.
“And once in office,” he said, “these politicians may have to choose between doing something that a top donor wants done and what residents of their state want done.”