Let’s say that there was a special election in upstate New York. Let’s say the Republicans were expected to win it, but polls showed the race to be close. One would expect the Democrats to pour money into the race, hoping for an upset. One would expect the Republicans to do the same, to hold down the fort.
As it happens, there is a special election in upstate New York that is unexpectedly close. What’s different is neither the Democratic Party or the Republican Party campaign organisations are spending (significant) money in the district. Instead, independent expenditure committees are filling the void.
There are a couple of reasons why this is happening. Chief among them is that both the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) are broke. They couldn’t really “invest” in the NY 26 special Congressional election even if they wanted to.
But the larger reason is that recent Supreme Court decisions have unshackled independent political expenditures. Reid Wilson of the National Journal talks about this shift in his column today:
The party apparatus is no longer the Beltway big dog. Instead, outside groups that specialize in winning elections are taking that role.
After the SpeechNow.org and Citizens United court decisions enabled the proliferation of virtually unregulated political cash, outside groups that spend only on independent expenditures have filled in where party committees fall short. On the right, American Crossroads and the American Action Network spent millions on House and Senate races in 2010.
Democrats struggled to respond last year, but this cycle the party is more seeking to level the field. The House Majority PAC will raise millions to target Republicans; they’ve already spent about $100,000 on radio ads in some districts. Priorities USA, run by two veterans of the Obama White House, will spend big bucks on Senate contests. And American Bridge 21st Century will focus on building opposition research to pass along to the media.
In theory, outside interests working to influence the outcome of a local election could become a major campaign issue. But with both sides benefiting from independent expenditure group efforts, neither side will bring it up.