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Does the flood of outside campaign money make candidates irrelevant?

April 30, 2014, at 10:01 AM
 
There have been almost 12,000 political ads to date in incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky.

There have been almost 12,000 political ads to date in incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky. Photo: (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

There is so much outside money flowing into political campaigns this year that individual candidates are no longer controlling the agenda of the races.

In fact, the candidates themselves may not even matter.

The Wesleyan Media Project finds that advertising in Senate races is off to an early start with $43.1 million spent on 109,701 advertisements. This is a 45 percent increase over the spending just two years ago. But the most striking finding is that outside groups are responsible for 59 percent of these political ads.

In addition, over half of the TV spots put up by outside groups are funded by so-called "dark money" groups, which are not required to disclose their donors.

Robert Maguire calls this year's midterm campaign the "darkest election in recent history."

One reason for the onslaught of outside group spending may be that such ads work.

Said Wesleyan Media Project co-director Michael Franz: "Research demonstrates that group-sponsored advertising can be more effective than candidate advertising. This is especially true when people know very little about the group except that it has a nice name — and thus they perceive these groups to be more credible than the candidates running for office."

Indeed, independent research from Ace Metrix also shows that the most-effective ads this election season have been sponsored by outside groups.

The effect of all this outside money is that actual candidates and their campaigns are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Outside groups are choosing the issues, running ads, and having a greater influence over who we elect. And in the majority of cases, we have no idea who is behind the effort.

 

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