Campaign Spending Scorecard: Record Cash, Little Impact

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Despite all the attention on record spending by outside groups during the 2010 midterm campaign, a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute found that the huge sums had little effect on the outcome of the election.

Nonparty organizations reported spending more than $280 million, or 130 percent more money during the 2010 campaign than they did in 2008, according to the Institute. The figure eclipsed spending totals by the national political parties for the first time in recent memory.

But in the most competitive races across the country, spending by party and nonparty groups combined was roughly equal in support of Republican and Democratic candidates, a dynamic that suggests the electoral wave was roiling well ahead of any outside groups' attempts to sway voters' hearts and minds, the Institute said.

"Neither set of expenditures [party or nonparty spending] could be said to have tipped the electoral balance," Institute researcher Brendan Glavin wrote in the report.

Republicans captured at least 60 seats from Democrats Nov. 2 to decisively seize majority control of the U.S. House. In the Senate, GOP candidates flipped six seats, although not enough for Republicans to claim a majority.

2010 Election Results: Senate, House and Governors' Races

In 50 of the most competitive House races in which Democratic incumbents lost, victorious Republican challengers, on average, raised and spent less than the opponents they ousted. And in the same races, reported spending by parties and nonparty groups on both sides did not significantly differ.

While the skyrocketing spending by outside, nonparty groups did favor Republicans overall, according to the Institute, in most races, the influence seemed to have been offset by a significant difference in party spending, which favored Democrats.

"These [nonparty] organizations that are spending money independently are doing exactly the same thing as parties," said Steve Ansolabehere, a political scientist at Harvard University, of the new dynamic. "When all is said and done after this election, we're going to look at those organizations and they're going to look like parties. It's just going to be another way money is flowing into campaigns."

Pro-Republican Groups 'Expanded Playing Field'

The pro-Republican group American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, which has ties to strategist Karl Rove, reported spending more than $38 million in the 2010 midterm campaign, more than any other outside group. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the second biggest spender, dispensing $32 million.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, both pro-Democratic labor unions, were the fourth and fifth biggest nonparty spenders in the campaign. Each spent less than half what American Crossroads or the Chamber of Commerce spent.

"The Republican nonparty groups had said they were interested in helping to 'expand the playing field,'" Glavin writes, "and these figures ... suggest that they did."

The assessments are based on Federal Election Commission data through Election Day.

The Institute has estimated that the total spending by party and nonparty groups in the campaign would surpass $564 million when the totals become clearer by the end of the year.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates that final spending totals among all groups and all races -- including spending by candidates themselves -- could top $4 billion for the full 2010 cycle.