Election event: Analysis of Cawthorn/Davis debate

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Press release by the Institute for Southern Studies, CPP’s sponsoring organization, shared on Nov. 5:

10 groups account for more than 90 percent of state’s independent election spending

DURHAM, N.C. — Heading into the final day of the 2012 elections, super PACs and other outside political groups have spent nearly $14 million on North Carolina state races, according to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, a media and research center.

That figure doesn’t include spending which hasn’t been disclosed yet, which could be substantial. The number will also rise as groups lay out last-minute spending on tight races like the N.C. Supreme Court contest between incumbent Paul Newby and challenger Sam Ervin.

“We won’t know how much super PACs and other outside groups are spending in North Carolina until the dust settles well after Election Day,” said Institute Executive Director Chris Kromm. “But this much is clear: The cost of elections in our state continues to grow, and outside groups are bigger players than ever.”

The Institute has been tracking independent election spending in North Carolina at FollowNCMoney.org, a website that draws on state and federal election filings. The site now has records of more than 590 expenditures totaling $13.9 million aimed at state-level races for 2012.

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Nationally, spending by independent groups — those not officially tied to a party or candidate — has grown dramatically in recent years. Outside groups received a boost with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened rules on how corporations and unions could spend political money.

The actual amount of outside spending in N.C. is likely much higher than $13.9 million. State election officials have struggled to keep up with the influx of expenditure filings, delaying their disclosure. In some cases, groups have filed reports incorrectly, reported the same spending multiple times, or haven’t filed at all, further undermining efforts to accurately track spending.

But the official reports do offer a snapshot of which groups and races are involved in outside spending, and the rising importance of independent groups in state-level elections. Some of the highlights as of Monday, Nov. 5:

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  • Top spending groups: 91% of the outside spending on North Carolina state races has come from 10 groups. Seven of the top 10 are conservative/Republican-leaning committees; three are liberal/Democratic-leaning (see chart).
  • 2-1 Republican Edge: So far, Republican-leaning groups have had the outside money advantage: 71% of the spending from the top 10 groups has come from Republican-leaning groups; 29% from Democratic-leaning organizations. In North Carolina’s 2010 legislative elections, groups spending to benefit Republicans enjoyed a 10-to-1 money advantage over their Democratic-leaning counterparts.
  • Top committee: The single group spending the most money in 2012 so far has been the D.C.-based Republican Governors Association, which has filed reports showing $4.9 million worth of spending to benefit Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory. The RGA’s donor list is dominated by national corporations.
  • Biggest race: The N.C. governor’s race has attracted the most money, drawing more than $8 million in outside spending. Other leading groups spending on behalf of Pat McCrory include Real Jobs NC, Americans for Prosperity and the Constitution Trust. N.C. Citizens for Progress has been the dominant group supporting Democrat Walter Dalton, spending $2.6 million to benefit his campaign. N.C. Citizens for Progress’ biggest backer has been the D.C.-based Democratic Governors Association.
  • N.C. Supreme Court race: As McCrory has extended his lead in the polls for governor, outside spending has shifted to the N.C. Supreme Court race. As of mid-day Monday, Nov. 5, total expenditures in the race had reached nearly $2.6 million, with more on the way. The biggest outside spender in the N.C. Supreme Court race is the N.C. Judicial Coalition, which has filed reports showing $1.8 million in expenditures. The group’s largest donor is another super PAC, Justice for All NC, which has received more than $1.1 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee.

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Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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