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Public Citizen Report: 42 Percent of Unregulated Groups Have Devoted All Their Resources to a Single Candidate in 2014 Elections

Oct. 14, 2014

Public Citizen Report: 42 Percent of Unregulated Groups Have Devoted All Their Resources to a Single Candidate in 2014 Elections

Assumption in Citizens United That Outside Spenders Would Be Independent Is Undercut by Their Ties to Candidates and Parties

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At least 57 outside groups that can accept unlimited contributions have devoted all of their resources to supporting a single congressional candidate this election cycle, according to a Public Citizen analysis released today. These groups, which had reported spending $49 million on this year’s elections as of Oct. 7, make up 42 percent of all unregulated groups analyzed by Public Citizen for this report.

Seven other outside groups that have close ties to the national parties have spent $79.9 million so far, according to Public Citizen’s report, “Superconnected 2014.”

Additionally, Public Citizen found that:

  • The single-candidate groups and those with close ties to the parties have combined to account for 47 percent of spending by unregulated electioneering groups spending more than $100,000 this cycle. (The report’s analysis is limited to $100,000-plus spenders, which have accounted for 99 percent of spending by unregulated groups.);
  • The single-candidate groups consist of 48 super PACs and nine 501(c) nonprofit groups;
  • The 48 single-candidate super PACs have spent more than $36 million; the nine 501(c) groups have spent more than $12 million.

Public Citizen previously reported that 49 percent of the unregulated outside groups that sought to influence the 2012 congressional and presidential elections devoted their resources to a single candidate.

These findings undercut the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale in its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which permitted corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums to influence elections and paved the way for outside electioneering groups such as super PACs and 501(c)s to accept unlimited contributions.

The Supreme Court based its decision on the premise that outside entities operate independently from candidates. The court assumed that electioneering expenditures by independent entities do not risk causing corruption the way that large, direct contributions to candidates do. Because the risk of corruption is the basis on which the court has traditionally permitted campaign finance regulations, it deemed regulating outside groups’ activities to be an unjustified infringement of First Amendment rights.

The practice of many groups devoting their efforts to one candidate suggests that the groups are not truly independent from those candidates. Supporting this hypothesis, many single-candidate groups were formed by close friends and former staffers of the candidates. Some are funded exclusively by relatives and close acquaintances.

“How many truly independent groups would choose to concentrate all of their efforts on just one congressional contest?” said Adam Crowther, researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and a co-author of the report.

Of the groups that the report concludes have close ties to the political parties, some were formed by individuals who previously worked for congressional leaders, such as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Some groups, including Senate Majority PAC, have mission statements of electing candidates from specific national parties. The existence of such groups directly undercuts the ban on donating “soft money” to parties established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the report said.

“Unlimited contributions to a group that is working for a single candidate is almost the same as unlimited contributions directly to the candidate,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and a co-author of the report. “The existence of these unregulated groups completely undermines campaign finance limits on contributions to candidates and political parties, and ushers in a new era of soft money spending.”

Read the report.