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Price tag for midterms could hit $4 billion

Dan Eggen
Thursday, October 28, 2010; A17

The midterm numbers just keep piling up.

In the latest sign of this year's record-breaking election season, an independent research group estimated Wednesday that candidates, parties and outside interest groups together could spend up to $4 billion on the campaign.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics provide evidence for a spending surge, even without a White House race. Expenditures have eclipsed what they were when George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000. The current election makes that contest "look like a bargain," said Sheila Krumholz, CRP's executive director.

There are three general tides of money swamping this year's elections, according to CRP's data: House and Senate candidates, who have reported raising $1.7 billion; the political parties, with about $1.1 billion; and outside interest groups, which have raised at least $400 million.

That adds up to $3.2 billion, but the numbers are incomplete amid the frenzy of ad buys and other activity in the week before the election. Candidate campaigns alone are on pace to eclipse $2 billion, which is a remarkable number, given restrictions on contributions.

Other patterns are also becoming clearer as the data accumulate. Donations from Wall Street, medical and insurance firms, energy conglomerates and other corporations have shifted decisively toward Republicans over the past year because of policy disputes with Democrats and anticipation of a possible GOP takeover in Congress.

The CRP data bolster another long-running theme in this election: GOP-leaning interest groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Action Network have been crucial in allowing Republicans to close a money gap with incumbent Democrats and their allies.

CRP calculates that the two sides have each raised about $1.4 billion between candidates and parties, but conservative groups have spent $2 on advertisements and other communications for every $1 on the liberal side. (There are signs that Democratic allies have been catching up in recent weeks.)

CRP predicts that the federal election contest will cost at least $3.7 billion, with a strong possibility of eclipsing $4 billion.

PAC banking

When it comes time to choose a bank, many Washington political committees pick one close to home or one affiliated with a big national chain.

But American Crossroads, a conservative group headquartered blocks from the White House, made an unusual choice: Forcht Bank, a small regional institution based in Lexington, Ky.

The bank is part of a regional conglomerate, the Forcht Group, owned by Terry Forcht of Corbin, Ky., which also has publishing, broadcast, construction and real estate companies. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported this week that Forcht's family and employees have given $1.1 million in political donations since 2003, nearly all of it to Republicans.

Forcht also owns a chain of nursing homes under investigation by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is running as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate against GOP nominee Rand Paul. American Crossroads has spent more than $1.8 million on ads opposing Conway, including radio ads, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The Forcht Group also provides $50,000 a year for a "center for excellence" at the University of the Cumberlands. The center's featured speaker this year was Karl Rove, who encouraged the founding of American Crossroads, according to reports.

Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said Forcht Bank was chosen by the group's chairman, Mike Duncan, a Kentucky native with a banking background who served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Collegio said Duncan steers clear of any Crossroads decisions about Kentucky races because he is on the state Republican committee.

None of the Crossroads filings submitted to the FEC indicate any payments to Forcht Bank for fees, which are generally required to be reported if they exceed $200, according to campaign finance experts. Collegio said American Crossroads, which is registered as a "super PAC," abides by all disclosure requirements.

"We were basically looking for a bank that would provide us with a good level of community service, and Forcht Bank fit that bill," Collegio said. "This is really a bunch of attenuated dots that don't add up to anything."

Conway spokesman John Collins declined to comment because of the state investigation, which centers on allegations of sexual abuse at one of the Forcht Group's nursing home facilities. Forcht Bank officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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