A WAVE OF CONSERVATIVE CASH FLOODS ELECTIONS…. A Republican strategist involved in independent-expenditure campaigns recently told Politico, “If there is a time for independent groups to step up, this is it. This is the year for independent groups to put up or shut up.”

Believe me, they’re putting up.

Going into the cycle, the fundraising edge appeared to belong to Democrats. The RNC’s hopeless mismanagement and incompetence gave Dems a boost, and the House and Senate committees have fared quite well all year against their Republican counterparts. The party with better financing doesn’t always win, but the coffers at least suggested Dems had the resources to be competitive.

But that picture was limited in scope. In 2010, comparing Democratic fundraising to Republican fundraising is simply incomplete, because it fails to account for the massive campaign expenditures conservative groups are making.

Outside groups supporting Republican candidates in House and Senate races across the country have been swamping their Democratic-leaning counterparts on television since early August as the midterm election season has begun heating up.

Driving the disparity in the ad wars has been an array of Republican-oriented organizations that are set up so they can accept donations of unlimited size from individuals and corporations without having to disclose them. The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.

The yawning gap in independent interest group spending is alarming some Democratic officials, who argue that it amounts to an effort on the part of wealthy Republican donors, as well as corporate interests, newly emboldened by regulatory changes, to buy the election.

That’s not especially hyperbolic. Right-wing interests are collecting millions for attack ads, financed through shadowy groups awash in undisclosed donations. We know a bit about the efforts of some far-right billionaires, including the Koch brothers, but we can only see the tip of a large iceberg — the rest is deliberately (and legally) kept from view.

To quantify this a bit, groups helping Republican Senate candidates outspent Democratic-friendly outfits $10.9 million to $1.3 million over the last five weeks. That’s not a typo — the advantage was eight to one. Spending from both parties’ candidates was relatively even, but the GOP drive to take the Senate benefits because right-wing organizations are pumping huge sums into ads that benefit Republicans.

And now that the campaign season is entering the home stretch, it’s likely to get worse.

The GOP would likely note in response to this that labor unions will come to Democrats’ aid, and that’s true. But the disparity in impact is overwhelming — Republican fat-cats and corporate donors have pockets so deep, no one can keep up. “If we try to compete in that game, we can’t compete,” said Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “They have so much more resources.”

A couple of weeks ago, ThinkProgress published a report documenting the fact that “conservative organizations have committed (or already spent) $400 million to advance their conservative agenda at the ballot box this year.”

It’s a tough cycle for Democrats anyway. Going up against Republicans and these well-financed, shadowy groups at the same time makes matters that much more difficult.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.