2010 Election Spending Up 40 Percent, Watchdog Estimates

Election spending by third party groups up 40 percent in 2010, says watchdog.

ByABC News
October 18, 2010, 5:33 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2010— -- With just under two weeks before voters head to the polls, the 2010 midterm election cycle is on track to be the most expensive in history, flush with 40 percent more cash than in 2008, according to the latest figures from the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

The group estimates $564 million will be spent by political committees and nonprofit groups this year, including $334 million by pro-Republican organizations and $230 million by pro-Democratic groups.

Experts say spending by independent third-parties are driving the surge, infusing 73 percent more cash into the campaign through mid-October than they did two years ago.

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President Obama and top Democrats have pointed to the record sums as the basis for their criticism of groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, which don't have to disclose the identities of their donors.

"Their lips are sealed, but the floodgates are open," Obama said. "If we just stand by and allow the special interests to silence anybody who's got the guts to stand up to them, our country is going to be a very different place."

The administration has said the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision has played a key role in unleashing the flood of cash, by lifting campaign finance restrictions on direct, independent electioneering by corporations, and unions using their general funds in the weeks before elections.

But Campaign Finance Institute executive director Michael Malbin said it's too soon to tell whether the court's decision facilitated an influx of new money – or just allowed corporations to spend it differently.

"While the [Supreme Court's] decision enables more direct business participation, it does not mean more business corporations will feel an incentive to act in this way, instead of giving money through intermediaries (including trade associations and non-profit advocacy groups) as they have done in the past," he said. "The evidence so far is mixed; any conclusion is highly premature."