The days of classic head-to-head campaigns, when two candidates slug it out for a seat in Congress, are long gone. In the 2012 cycle, the average U.S. Senate race had 11 different advertisers, and the average House race had four different advertisers, according to data compiled by the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Not only did the number of players explode, but the amount spent ballooned, as court rulings have made it easier for outside groups to use large checks from rich people to buy ads. Local market television stations took in about $2.9 billion in political ad spending in the 2012 cycle, nearly twice the $1.5 billion in 2008.
Nearly a year later, another change is now evident. The rise of outside groups means federal Congressional elections are starting bigger and earlier. There are still nearly 500 days until the 2014 midterm elections, but big spending SuperPacs and their non-profit cousins are already turning out advertising online and on television in efforts to sway voters. The money is still spent in targeted ways, and the new bankrolls of these groups won’t be known for a few more weeks, when many of them report their donations to the Federal Election Commission. But it’s not to early to get a lay of the land. Here’s a quick guide to the groups keeping members of Congress up at night, or making them sleep a little more tight.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made perfectly clear that he will spend millions to punish members of Congress who vote against more gun regulations, while supporting those who take difficult votes to support the new rules, including background checks for guns. Here are a couple of his early spots, against Sens. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican, and Mark Pryor, the Arkansas Democrat.
Senate Majority and Patriot Majority
These two groups are the “independent” third party arms of the Senate Democratic leadership, run by former strategists and allies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They have been coming after Reid’s counterpart, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is the Senate minority leader, and just about anyone else who might be vulnerable in the Senate in 2014, including Tom Cotton, the Republican likely to run against Pryor in Arkansas.
Kentuckians for Strong Leadership
Mitch McConnell has attracted his own independent group, which started running spots defending him before he even had a Democratic rival in Kentucky.
Democrats have put together an outside group for their House candidates as well. They came hard after Rep. Mark Sanford in the South Carolina special election this year, with little success. They also spent time needling Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann online, though she has announced she will retire after this term.
Congressional Leadership Fund
This group is tied to House Speaker John Boehner, and it has been flexing its muscles early in targeted house races.
Senate Conservatives Action
Mark Pryor has yet another headache from this outside group looking to help Republicans retake control of the Senate next year.
Club for Growth
This long-time fiscally conservative group made its name opposing moderate members of the Republican Party. But this year, they are starting early coming hard after Pryor.
This Karl Rove-backed group was a big spender, and loser, in 2012. In 2013, they have so far focused on trying to convince Republicans to support immigration reform.
Silicon Valley money is also getting into the game with a trio of groups organized under the umbrella of Fwd.us. One arm is called Americans for a Conservative Direction. The other is called Council for American Job Growth.
Stay tuned. Much more is coming.