2010 is proving to be an expensive election year in the United States. In addition to the usual spending by individual
candidates and various national party committees, outside groups are spending tens of millions of dollars trying to influence this year's congressional midterm elections.
Election campaigns are expensive in the United States because most congressional candidates focus their spending on television advertisements.
In a close race like the one in Nevada for a U.S. Senate seat, millions of dollars are raised and spent for candidate attack ads.
In this case, the war of TV words in Nevada is being fought between veteran Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle.
Spending by independent or outside groups is surging this year, already double the amount spent in the last midterm elections in 2006.
The increase in spending is largely due to a Supreme Court ruling in January that lifted restrictions on corporations and labor unions from trying to influence elections through television advertising. Federal campaign limits on money donated directly to congressional candidates remain in effect.
Much of the money being raised by outside special interest groups is targeting Democrats this year, and Democratic candidates are trying to make an issue out of it.
President Barack Obama has seized on the issue as he campaigns for Democrats around the country, raising the possibility that foreign corporations or interests may be playing a role in fundraising. "They do not have the courage to stand up and disclose their identities. They could be insurance companies or Wall Street banks or even foreign-owned corporations. We will not know," he said.
Democrats tried and failed to pass a law in Congress that would require the independent fundraising groups to disclose where the campaign contributions come from.
Now, Democrats are running their own campaign ads targeting groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for raising money that is intended to help elect Republicans on November 2.
This one mentions two former political advisers to former President George W. Bush. "Karl Rove. Ed Gillespie. They are Bush cronies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They are shills for big business. Republicans benefiting from secret foreign money," the ad said.
The Chamber of Commerce denies it is using any foreign contributions to help Republican candidates. And former Bush adviser Karl Rove had an angry reaction to the claim on Fox News Sunday. "And they have not one shred of evidence to back up that baseless lie. This is a desperate and I think disturbing trend by the president of the United States to tar his political adversaries with some kind of enemies list, unrestrained by any facts or evidence whatsoever," Rove said.
In the final weeks of the election campaign, Democrats are finding it difficult to keep pace with Republican fundraising, especially the millions of dollars raised by independent or outside groups.
"Wealthy donors can pour huge amounts of money into the campaigns without disclosing who they are. So the Republicans are getting the best of both words. They have the grassroots energy, which the Democrats lack, from the Tea Party. And they have the big money," said Allan Lichtman, an expert on politics at American University in Washington.
But other experts argue that the Democrats main worry at the moment is not money but public opinion polls, which show Republicans on track to make major gains in both chambers of Congress on November 2.
"In the last couple of weeks we have seen about a seven to one Republican advantage in advertising. At the margin that could make a difference, but Democrats have enough money budgeted to be on TV and make their case," said Thomas Mann, who is with the Brookings Institution.
The Wall Street Journal reports that various independent groups supporting one party or the other are likely to spend a total of about $600 million in the final two weeks of the election. Much of the money aimed at helping Republicans will come from conservative and business groups, while Democrats will largely rely on help from labor unions.