With just two weeks until the midterm elections, polls suggest many Senate races remain within the margin of error. While momentum seems to have shifted to Republicans, the party is still struggling to lock-in victories in a number of states carried by Mitt Romney. The political map has not expanded in the way one would expect given Obama’s disastrous approval ratings. A significant reason for this is the big money edge enjoyed by Democrats. The party of Andrew Jackson is awash in contributions from mega-rich donors.
Since at least the Citizens United decision in 2010, the favorite media narrative as been the influence of a handful of wealthy individuals on the Republican party. In this storyline, the Supreme Court decision reaffirming the principle that political speech is protected under the 1st Amendment, unleashed a flood of “outside” money benefiting Republicans. Whether or not this story was ever true, it is certainly stale and outdated in this election.
So far this cycle, the top three liberal super PACs have trounced conservative groups on fundraising, raising $134 million against the conservatives’ $58 million. Almost half the donations to the Senate Majority Fund, the most active liberal super PAC, have come in chunks of donations over $1 million. By contrast, just over a third of the donations to the Republican American Crossroads have been in excess of $1 million. Liberal hedge fund manager and environmental activist Tom Steyer alone has contributed over $40 million to Democrat campaigns.
This surge in Democrat financial support from mega-rich individuals is in addition to the traditional financial support the party receives from labor unions. Unions have historically been a rich source of donations for liberals and Democrats. Earlier this year, labor promised to spend around $300 million supporting Democrats this Fall. With a media obsessed with Citizens United, the political 800 lb gorilla of big labor is often unmentioned as some kind of quaint anachronism. They remain, though, one of the more potent political forces.
This big money support has enabled Democrats to advertise early and, in many cases, put Republican candidates on the defensive heading into the final days of the campaign. The political climate is so toxic for liberals, however, that this financial advantage for Democrats will be muted.
That said, at the margin, the Democrat funding edge has kept the midterms very close. Republicans are likely to gain control of the Senate, but only just, most likely. Long gone are the optimist predictions of a 10 seat gain for Republicans.
Money is indeed having a big impact on the 2014 elections. Absolutely not in the way the media predicted or the way it continues to report on the campaigns. The era of big money Democrat campaigns is just beginning.