The Influence Industry

Interest groups prepared to spend record amounts in 2010 elections

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interest groups are gearing up to spend record amounts of money on this year's congressional and state elections, as liberals seek to shore up Democratic defenses and conservative and business groups plan a well-funded push on behalf of Republicans.

More than 20 major political advocacy groups plan to spend well over $400 million on campaign contributions, issue-based advertising and other election-related efforts this year, according to an informal canvas of many of Washington's largest and most influential organizations. When added together with spending by candidates and parties, political expenditures in the 2010 cycle already have topped $2 billion, according to a running tally by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The biggest war chests appear to be amassed on the right, where groups hope to take advantage of widespread unhappiness over the recession, stimulus spending and other fiscal issues to propel Republicans into office. About two-thirds of the expected group expenditures compiled by The Washington Post will come from conservative-leaning groups.

For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, a new GOP-focused group backed by former White House political director Karl Rove, each plan to spend at least $50 million this year on election-related efforts, officials said. Other big spenders on the right include the American Action Network ($25 million), the Club for Growth ($24 million) and FreedomWorks ($10 million).

Another conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, plans to spend more than $45 million targeting more than 50 House districts and half a dozen Senate races in key battleground states. AFP President Tim Phillips said the group does not offer direct endorsements but will hold rallies, organize door-to-door canvassing, and buy radio and television advertising aimed at "educating voters about where candidates stand" on conservative issues.

The National Rifle Association, which contributes to both parties but leans heavily to the GOP, hopes to spend as much as $20 million through its political action committee, according to spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "It's shaping up to be a very active year politically," Arulanandam said. "Our interest is to first preserve then enhance if possible the Second Amendment majorities in both chambers."

The push from the left will be led by major unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which plans to spend about $50 million on federal and state political activities this year, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has budgeted about $44 million. The AFL-CIO, another major union player, has not yet released its planned expenditures.

Larry Scanlon, AFSCME's national political director, said 2010 is important not only because of the battle for seats in Congress but because many state legislatures will determine redistricting maps following the federal census. The mood of the country, he conceded, poses particular difficulties for Democrats usually backed by labor.

"The landscape is just so poor now because of the economy and people's feelings of hopelessness and frustration," Scanlon said. "Both sides are going to be very involved in this election."

Emily's List, which raises money and provides support for female Democratic candidates, plans to spend about $43 million in 2010, according to the group. "We're going to do whatever we can to reelect incumbent women and get new women in there," said Jen Bluestein Lamb, communications director for Emily's List.

For most of these outside groups, 2010 will mark a record year for spending on midterm elections; some are even spending more than they did in the astonishingly expensive presidential election of 2008.

AFP, for example, spent only about $8 million in 2006 and $15 million in 2008, compared to almost $50 million this year. The Chamber is also doubling its spending compared to four years ago, while the Club for Growth will be up about 20 percent.

On the left, AFSCME's anticipated spending will be up 67 percent compared to 2006 and SEIU will be up 33 percent; however, both unions spent even more in 2008 in support of Obama and other Democrats. This year, union leaders said, will be focused on attempting to hold onto as many of those Democratic gains as possible.

"A lot of what we're involved with is incumbent protection," said Lori Lodes, an SEIU spokeswoman. "It's a very important year."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company