Midterm Campaigns in a Money Race to the End

WASHINGTON – With control of the U.S. Senate at stake, the waning days of the 2014 campaign are getting down to the really important part of American politics – raising money.

Just who will triumph in the vital “dialing for dollars” battle remains up in the air. Candidates aren’t required to turn in their quarterly fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15, leaving political pros like a racetrack tout waiting for his horse to come into the stretch.

This year the numbers may be more important than usual. With President Obama’s numbers abysmally low and a number of seats in conservative states to protect, Democrats are in danger of losing control of the upper chamber. If the GOP picks up six seats – highly probable according to most prognosticators – the party will control both the House and Senate, providing it with an opportunity to steamroll the White House.

Democrats, then, want money to hit the airwaves in the final weeks, perhaps convincing undecided voters that Obama isn’t that bad after all and that the candidate – fill in the blank – is certainly better than the Republican alternative. And the GOP wants to soak up all the available cash to maintain its edge.

Thus far this cycle, the Democratic Party apparatus has outraised its Republican counterpart. That advantage is not expected to show any change in this quarter’s reports.

But the old, reliable FEC reports aren’t nearly as helpful as they once were. As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which opened the floodgates for nonprofits, corporations and labor unions to make unlimited, independent expenditures, big money is flying nonstop into campaigns from coast-to coast.

Under federal election law, official campaign organizations and outside groups are not permitted to coordinate their activities. This year, the spending is so heavy and erratic that campaign staffs are having difficulty figuring out where the money is coming from and for what purpose much of the time. The deluge from outside groups, who operate under different rules, now often plays a larger role on behalf of the candidate of their choice than the campaigns themselves.

Total outside spending during this cycle, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government, exceeds $330 million with a month to go – generally the most expensive month at that. In 2010, by means of comparison, outside spending on all federal elections, save for the amount expended by the political parties, amounted to a little more than $300 million.

In what is shaping up as the most expensive campaign in the country, pitting Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat, against incumbent Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, two groups – the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership – are well on their way to spending more than $20 million on McConnell’s behalf, with most of the cash going to television spots attacking Grimes and President Obama.

One radio ad funded by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition went like this:

ANNOUNCER: “Obama’s famous for it. He’ll say anything to get what he wants. Hope and change. Keep your plan. Now Alison Grimes is following in his footsteps. Running false attack ads to hide who she really is: A liberal who’s wrong for Kentucky – just like Obama.

Grimes’ record? In 2011, she pledged support for Obama’s national party platform. After he waged War on Coal and pushed ObamaCare, Grimes endorsed his liberal agenda.

2012, Grimes endorsed Obama for re-election. Grimes even served at his re-election convention, to give him four more liberal years.

Now, Grimes is running for Senate – a rubber stamp for Obama’s agenda. And his top moneymen are bankrolling her campaign.

Alison Grimes: She’s not for Kentucky. And that won’t ever change.”

Both outfits are led by J. Scott Jennings, a native of Dawson Springs, Ky., a former McConnell aide and onetime deputy director of political affairs for President George W. Bush. By itself, according to the Sunlight Foundation, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership ranks tenth this cycle among independent spenders, having already anted up $7.6 million to attack Democrats.