The Republican Party has a big financial advantage heading into the 2014 election, thanks in large part to the growing presence of conservative outside groups.
But just looking at raw dollars spent by these groups misses a key point: A huge chunk of that money is being used to tear down fellow Republicans.
According to a great new study from the Center for Public Integrity's Dave Levinthal, conservative super PACs and other outside groups this year have spent nearly three times as much money directly attacking fellow Republicans ($9.7 million) as directly attacking Democrats ($3.7 million).
That $9.7 million is also about 150 times as much as Democratic groups have spent attacking Democratic candidates ($67,000).
Here's where things get even more interesting: If you take it a step further and combine all spending by conservative and liberal outside groups, a majority of the money spent by these kinds of groups expressly for or against a candidate -- 53.8 percent -- has been used to attack Republicans ($9.7 million from conservative groups and $13.8 million from liberal groups), while a measly 8.5 percent has been used to attack Democrats.
The GOP is spending 64 percent of all the money used on ads for or against candidates this year, but its candidates are bearing the brunt of more than six times as many attacks ads as Democrats.
Here's how that looks:
A few caveats:
One is that this picture will change considerably as the election year progresses. A big reason Republicans are attacking other Republicans right now is because it's primary season, and there are a ton of competitive GOP primaries. Democrats don't have nearly as many -- partially because they don't have as many seats to target and partially because their party is better at avoiding tough primaries altogether.
And secondly, it should be stressed that this is not the complete picture of outside spending. It does not include money spent by nonprofit groups, such as the Koch brothers-aligned Americans for Prosperity, since these ads are technically "issue ads" that don't expressly tell people to vote for or against a candidate (even as the message is pretty clear in a lot of them).
If you were to include those numbers, which are much harder/impossible to quantify because they don't have to be reported, the percentage of money spent attacking Democrats would increase exponentially.
But it's quite instructive to look at how lopsided that data that we can quantify is. The $43.8 million spent above is a huge chunk of the money spent so far on the 2014 election, and Republicans continue to be unable to resist the urge to spend it tearing down one another rather than going after Democrats.
(It's actually pretty par-for-course, though. As our own Matea Gold and Dan Keating wrote earlier this year, outside spending on GOP primaries ballooned in 2012 in a way that spending on Democratic primaries did not. GOP groups wound up spending $24.5 million on their Senate primaries, while Democrats spent just $4.7 million.)
The GOP remains a party that has botched several quite winnable Senate races in recent years after nominating flawed candidates who emerged from arduous and expensive GOP primaries. This is a big reason why.
It's also a big reason why the Republican Party brand remains in significantly worse shape than the Democratic brand.