2013-14 election cycle spending by outside groups and party committees

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Total spending for Republican candidates

Total spending for Democratic candidates

Against Democratic opponent

Against Republican opponent

Supporting Republican candidate

Supporting Democratic candidate

The bulk of the activity is being driven by outside groups such as super PACs and political nonprofits, which have been playing an increasingly dominant role in campaigns since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Unlike candidates, who can only accept donations up to $2,600 per person in each election, these big money players can take unlimited sums from individuals and corporations. Some, formed as tax-exempt organizations, do not have to reveal their donors.

This year, pro-Democratic groups have been more evenly matched with pro-Republican groups than in the last two elections, according to federal campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. But the figures do not include tens of millions spent by tax-exempt groups on so-called issue ads that do not explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate. Spending by those groups, which has largely benefited GOP candidates, is not depicted here.

The data shown here, collected by CRP from Federal Election Commission reports, is summarized by weeks. In the 60-day window ahead of the general election, all spending that mentions a candidate’s name is reported.

Top 10 Senate races

This year, the country’s most competitive Senate races have attracted much of the spending, as well as much of the attention. Republicans need to win six seats to gain majority control, and two or three Democratic seats are already considered likely pickups for the GOP. The most costly Senate fight is taking place in North Carolina, which has already beaten previous records for outside spending.

10 top Senate races by independent spending

Total spending for Republican candidates

Total spending for Democratic candidates

Supporting Republican candidate

Against Democratic opponent

Supporting Democratic candidate

Against Republican opponent

10 top-spending groups

The national party committees, which can accept contributions of up to $32,400 from an individual each year, are still campaign heavyweights. But some of their influence has waned as super PACs and nonprofits have expanded their footprints.

10 top-spending groups

Total spending for Republican candidates

Total spending for Democratic candidates

Supporting Republican candidate

Against Democratic opponent

Supporting Democratic candidate

Against Republican opponent

Most attacked candidates

The vast majority of independent spending is negative, in part because outside groups do not have direct access to candidates, limiting their ability to create ads spotlighting their personal stories and values. As non-candidate spending in elections has increased, the negative tenor of campaigns has deepened.

SOURCE: Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Does not include spending by tax-exempt groups on “issue ads” that do not explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.