Connecticut campaigns awash in outside cash

Hartford — In the year of the Super PAC, congressional and presidential elections across the country are smashing records in campaign spending, and Connecticut’s races are no exception.

As of a week ago, $74 million had been spent by candidates and outside parties in Connecticut on races for Congress, close to the record set in 2010.

Only 13 races have attracted more outside money than Connecticut’s Senate race between Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, and Republican Linda McMahon, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The race has attracted more than $9.7 million in outside money, more than the heated Massachusetts Senate race between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren, which has pulled in about $6.2 million in third-party spending.

Virginia’s close Senate race has attracted the most outside money, more than $50 million.

Most of the outside money in this year’s Connecticut Senate race came from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other Democratic groups that spent $7.5 million attacking McMahon.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce political fund, whose donors are not disclosed, spent $700,000 attacking Murphy. McMahon has also poured more than $40 million of her own money into the race, using much of that money in negative ads against Murphy.

The figures so far come close to the record $79 million in campaign spending that was spent in 2010. About $32 million of that was for network TV advertising.

Nationwide, Super PACs and other independent expenditure committees have poured more than $1.2 billion overall into federal races, fueling the money race and smashing spending records.

2 court rulings
The year of the Super PAC was spawned by two court rulings. One is the Supreme Court’s well-known Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of “soft money” running independent ads.

The second is a D.C. District Court’s ruling that allows individuals, corporations and unions to give to third-party organizations that run independent campaigns.

Super PACs and other outside political groups are required by law to act independently of a campaign or candidate.

But Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation noted that the Federal Election Commission said outside groups “don’t have to coordinate to cooperate.”

“People running PACs are political pros,” Allison said, “they can tell what the campaign is doing without direct contacts. They can piggyback on a campaign’s message.”

5th District race
Another hot race in Connecticut, for the 5th District seat being vacated by Chris Murphy, has attracted about $5 million in outside money.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent about $1.4 million, most of it attacking Republican Andrew Roraback. Meanwhile, the Ohio-based Government Integrity Fund, whose donors are not disclosed, has spent $1.1 million attacking Esty.

Roraback also received  last-minute help from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor’s Independence USA Super PAC spent $1.1 million on ads praising Roraback as an independent-minded politician who supports women’s rights, gun control and strong environmental  protections — all issues usually associated with Democrats.

The ad, which never mentions that Roraback is a Republican, quotes complimentary things the New York Times wrote about him, even though they were part of the newspaper’s editorial endorsing Esty.

“The ad accurately reflects my record and my positions,” Roraback said. “It’s nice to finish up on a positive note.”

Esty dismissed Bloomberg’s help as “too late in the campaign” to make any difference.

Mud = money

The rush of third-party spending has added to the number of misleading — and sometimes outright deceptive — ads and to an increase in attack ads.

The Wesleyan Media Project said 2 million ads will have run in presidential and congressional races by Election Day. But USA Today singled out an ad from McMahon as the “most laughably absurd ad” because the multimillionaire co-founder of the WWE attacked Murphy for his congressional salary, which is $174,000 this year.

The rush of outside spending has also increased television ad sales, a boon to the state’s television stations.

Steve Raab, senior manager for special projects at Fox Connecticut WCCT, said about $32 million was spent on broadcast ads in 2010.

“You are probably going to come up somewhere close this year,” Raab said.

Raab said broadcasters welcome the increase in outside spending because federal law requires that federal candidates receive the most competitive advertising rates 60 days before an election. But outside groups are not entitled to this preferential pricing.