Shadowy Groups Have Poured Nearly $227 Million Into 2010 Elections

In the past month, the Alliance has spent $1.2 million on television ads aimed at defeating Democratic Senate candidates in Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, and West Virginia, according to Federal Election Commission data available via Sunlightfoundation.com.

Anthony Holm, an Austin-based political consultant and the Alliance's president, says the Supreme Court's decision has had no impact on the group's fundraising strategy. "This is a group run out of Texas. Overwhelmingly the largest industry in Texas is oil and gas, so one would expect donors to be in the energy industry."

Those ties are not apparent in the group's ads or on its web site, which lists a post office box in Alexandria, Virginia as its address. The web site states the Alliance's mission is to "communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy and general disregard for standards of civility in society."

At the top of the group's list of targets is incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who is fighting to keep the seat he was appointed to when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration. The group has spent $262,000 in ads opposing Bennet, and another $131,000 on ads supporting his challenger, Ken Buck, according to FEC data available via Sunlightfoundation.com.

The Democratic-leaning group Patriot Majority is one of the biggest players in the contest between Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Sharron Angle in Nevada. With its $1.6 million in ad spending attacking Angle, the group has even outspent the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Nevada.

"You can now have these essentially 'shadow parties' doing the bidding that the official parties did back in the nineties," said Lincoln.

Labor unions and Las Vegas resorts have contributed a total of $1.2 million to the group. So far, the group's spending has been solely focused on opposing Republican candidates in the Nevada race, according disclosures made to the FEC available through SunlightFoundation.com.

Earlier in the year, the group spent $320,000 on ads attacking Republican primary candidate Sue Lowden, who some believed could be a stronger threat to Reid in the general election.

GOP Donor Fred Eshelman

The Patriot Majority ads have been competing with some $3 million in ad-spending targeting Reid from conservative-leaning groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. The two organizations, which share a Washington, D.C. office and the same consultants, have spent nearly $30 million on races around the country, according data available at Sunlightfoundation.com. While American Crossroads publicly discloses its wealthy donors, Crossroads GPS does not.

Not all outside groups are using their cash to blanket the airwaves; some have decided to focus their efforts on direct mail, robo-calls, and web videos.

Rightchange.com has spent $2.2 million in mail pieces targeting voters in nine hotly contested Senate races, opposing Democrats and supporting Republicans. The group has also launched "micro-sites" in hotly contested House and Senate races.

The group purports to be "a new generation of conservative film, Hollywood, TV and technology professionals," according to its web site.

But the effort is largely funded and spearheaded by Fred Eshelman, a GOP donor and millionaire chief executive of a North Carolina company that runs drug trials for pharmaceutical companies.

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