A controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed political ad buyers to remain anonymous has encouraged a torrential downpour of private dollars this election season: so much that the sum is now five times greater than funds spent amid the 2006 election season.
According to The Washington Post, this year interest groups have spent over $80 million on the elections, up from just $16 million in 2006, when Democrats ended 12 years of Republican rule.
Over half of the total spent so far comes from anonymous donors, the Post reported, which are permitted if the group they donate to is registered as a nonprofit. Nameless donors were given much greater leeway to spend on elections after the nation's highest court reversed a long-standing campaign finance rule that required groups to disclose who was purchasing political advertising.
President Obama and many Democrats charge that the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission threatens American democracy as it allows money to flow from virtually any sector, potentially opening the door to wealthy foreigners who wish to influence US elections.
Republicans, who've long argued that money is a form of speech, were quick to embrace the toppling of the rules. Former Bush political strategist Karl Rove joined with former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie to form what's been called a "shadow RNC" that operates outside of the Republican party but supports Republican candidates.
Those groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, joined with other wealthy conservatives to form a coalition of independent Republicans, looking to exert as much influence on the elections as possible. Many of the RNC's donors have left the official party and followed Rove and Gillespie, leaving the RNC significantly less relevant since Republicans elected Michael Steele as chairman.
Tim Dickenson, writing for Rolling Stone, called Rove's runaround nothing less than a "coup of the Republican party".
In a request for an advisory opinion [PDF link] filed with the Federal Election Commission, an attorney for Protect Our Elections cites reporting by RAW STORY, Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post to build a case alleging that Rove and his groups have effectively replaced the official RNC as the party's center of gravity. The watchdog group proposed the Crossroads groups should be subject to the same rules as the RNC, meaning they would not be allowed unlimited donations.
A second request for review [PDF link], filed with the Department of Justice, urges officials to protect the 2010 elections from wealthy individuals and groups who seek to win "by hook or crook."
They further insist that the DOJ "[launch] a specific criminal investigation into American Crossroads/American Crossroads GPS for its coup d’etat of the RNC for the purpose of controlling the United States Government."
Of course, it's not just conservatives that have marshaled their forces for 2010: non-affiliated Democrats and labor unions are joining the independent money bandwagon, but not nearly as fast as Republicans.
"[Based] on budget and spending projections from many big groups on both sides it’s expected that GOP-allied entities are likely to outspend their Democratic foes by a three to two margin and perhaps even two to one," explained reporter Peter Stone, writing for the Center for Public Integrity.
"For now, unions say they expect to be outspent heavily on the ad wars — and in fact they already have been, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group," he added. "A CMAG analysis says GOP-allied independent groups spent $18.1 million on Senate ads from Aug. 1 to Sept. 20, while their Democratic counterparts spent $2.6 million in the same period. On House races, GOP groups spent $6.7 million compared to $2.3 million doled out by Democratic groups."