Times Fears 'Small Cadre' of 'Deep-Pocketed' GOP Donors Will 'Buy the Election'

Michael Luo's Tuesday front-page story on spending for the 2008 congressional campaign is titled "G.O.P. Allies Outspending Their Rivals - Democrats Expressing Alarm on Disparity." And so is Luo, who echoes Democratic concerns to treat as something unseemly Republican use of so-called 527 groups - tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money for candidates and issues - in the same way Democrats did in 2006 and 2008.

The Wall Street Journal played a similar story on its front page Tuesday, but didn't lead with Democratic worries that the GOP is out to uniquely "buy the election."

Luo led off with the Democratic whining:

Outside groups supporting Republican candidates in House and Senate races across the country have been swamping their Democratic-leaning counterparts on television since early August as the midterm election season has begun heating up.

Driving the disparity in the ad wars has been an array of Republican-oriented organizations that are set up so they can accept donations of unlimited size from individuals and corporations without having to disclose them. The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.

The yawning gap in independent interest group spending is alarming some Democratic officials, who argue that it amounts to an effort on the part of wealthy Republican donors, as well as corporate interests, newly emboldened by regulatory changes, to buy the election.


The snapshot of early television spending would seem to be a fulfillment of Democrats' worst fears after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case in January that lifted a ban on direct corporate spending on political campaigns.

It is not clear, however, whether it is actually an influx of new corporate money unleashed by the Citizens United decision that is driving the spending chasm, or other factors, notably, a political environment that favors Republicans.

Eventually Luo pointed out that it's not just Republicans who get unrestricted donations (although the Times didn't fret about it on the front page back then).

If the trend on television continues and extends across other types of independent group spending, it would be a reversal from the past. In recent elections, it was Democrats who used so-called soft money vehicles, which are able to accept unrestricted donations, to a much greater degree.

In 2006, for example, the last midterm election, Democratic-leaning 527 groups, named for the part of the tax code they fall under, outspent Republican-leaning ones in federal races $121 million to $65 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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