Dark Money ’14: We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

Anyone conducting a comparison of fundraising for the 2014 cycle, as I did a couple days ago (quoting Charlie Cook as suggesting Democrats had an advantage in Senate races) should issue a disclaimer that there’s a lot of time left in the cycle and plenty of precedent for heavy deployment of “dark money” (groups that as certified non-profits don’t have to disclose donors) expenditures, especially by those backing Republican candidates. MoJo’s Andy Kroll has some disturbing estimates of the mud in the pipeline:

As the Center for Responsive Politics’ Robert Maguire notes, almost $7 million had been dropped by Labor Day in 2010. But by the end of that election season, dark-money spending had spiked to $130 million. That trend repeated in 2012: In late August of that year, dark-money spending clocked in at $51 million. Fast forward to Election Day and the total ballooned to more than $300 million….

This cycle is not a presidential year, but with the US Senate up for grabs, dark-money spending could surpass the record-setting amount of 2012. “If the rate of spending from previous cycles continues,” Maguire writes, “the totals could reach upwards of $730 million or—if the rate seen in the last midterm holds—edge close to $1 billion.”

Yet Republicans are still squawking that the IRS squelched conservative 501(c) “social welfare” designations. If that’s so, it’s hard to imagine the flood of untraceable money we’d be dealing with.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.