Republican-leaning groups spent almost seven times as much as Democratic rivals during the first three weeks of September in an effort to sway the Nov. 2 congressional elections, U.S. federal disclosure records show.
Groups with no official ties to the Republican Party spent more than $17 million to help Republican candidates, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. That compares with $2.6 million spent by Democratic-leaning groups.
The totals through Sept. 21 are giving Democrats added ammunition for a proposal the Senate plans to vote on today that would make groups that engage in campaign advertising disclose their donors. Groups that don’t disclose their donors accounted for more than a third of the spending to aid Republican candidates.
“The public is under siege from advertising by shadowy interest groups,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic leader, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
The funds, which excluded spending for primaries, covered expenses such as advertising and surveys and helped counter a deficit in Republican Party spending. The two Democratic Party fundraising committees for House and Senate candidates reported spending $6.8 million during the same period, compared with $3.7 million by their Republican counterparts.
One of the spenders is anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which is organized as a nonprofit issue group and doesn’t have to report its contributors to the FEC. It’s still required, like FEC-regulated political groups, to report spending that directly supports or opposes candidates.
John Kartch, a spokesman for the Washington-based group, said it plans to make about $2.5 million in independent expenditures this year. It has already spent more than $1 million in three House races, opposing Democratic Representatives Ben Chandler in Kentucky and Dina Titus in Nevada, and Democratic candidate Julie Lassa in Wisconsin.
Republicans and trade groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the Democratic proposal that would require such groups to disclose their donors. The legislation is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that overturned a decades-old ban on companies using their general funds to run campaign ads supporting or opposing federal candidates.
The Disclose Act would require “onerous campaign finance disclosure” and is “designed to restrict the political speech of business groups and most other advocacy organizations,” said Bruce Josten, the chamber’s top lobbyist, in a Sept. 18 statement.
All 41 Senate Republicans voted to block consideration of the bill in July, and Schumer yesterday couldn’t name any Republican willing to switch positions. Still, he said the Senate must act because groups are spending millions of dollars of undisclosed contributions on campaign ads.
“The issue is much more salient now,” Schumer said. “The thought of corporate and special-interest money cascading into our system is no longer just a premonition. It’s reality.”
In an effort to persuade at least one Republican to allow the Senate to take up the bill, Schumer said, Democrats promised to amend it so it won’t take effect until after the November elections.
Democrats are engaged in “pure politics,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a statement released by his office yesterday. “They hear Americans speaking out; they see some energy on the other side, and they don’t want to take the kind of criticism they leveled at Republicans for the past four years.”