PACs use funds to launch negative ads in Senate race

Outside spending by political action committees, or PACs, is one way to gauge the race’s national importance. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that only five other campaign races have accumulated more outside spending than Indiana’s senate contest. The presidential race is among them.

Senate retirements have left four open seats, enough to create a majority if they’re taken by Republicans.

“It’s entirely a matter of being able to gain control of the Senate,” said Gerald Wright, professor of political science.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has contributed $485,123 against Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and $25,065 for Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd District.

The same report shows the National Republican Senatorial Committee has so far contributed $713,459 against Donnelly and $16,757 for Mourdock.

Federal regulations prohibit PACs from coordinating with a campaign. Instead, they throw money into promoting a candidate or speaking out against a candidate’s opponent.

Mike Wolf, professor of political science at IU-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said outside spending can impact the tone of a campaign.

“It allows the campaign to run their own positive message while others can take on some of the negatives of the opponent,” Wolf said.

In Indiana, much of that campaigning has come in the form of television advertisements.

The DSCC’s ad against Mourdock asks, “Do we really want a senator who would inflict his radical ideas on all of us?”

Similarly, the NRSC’s ad against Donnelly addresses the Congressman’s support of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and flashes the message “You can run for Senate, but you can’t run from your record.”

Wright said the presence of national PACs in the money race, including the DSCC, indicates the race is still up in the air.

“The Democrats aren’t flush with tons and tons of money,” Wright said. “If they didn’t think there was a real possibility, they wouldn’t be doing it.” 

Mourdock edged out Senior Sen. Richard Lugar for the Republican nomination in May. That, Wright said, created a close race. Bi-partisan poll data hasn’t been released since early August, when Rasmussen reported Mourdock a narrow two points ahead of Donnelly. Outside spending could change the race, Wright said.

The Center for Responsive Politics shows the only PAC contributing more to the race than the NRSC is the conservative Club for Growth Action “SuperPAC,” which has weighed in with $2,258,114 in support of Mourdock or against Donnelly.

“Outside groups come in because they want to kill the person,” Wright said. “They want to slaughter them. They will say anything. They don’t worry about their reputation. They’re anonymous to voters, they’re not accountable.”

Robert Maguire, an outside spending researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, said promise of anonymity has significantly changed the way candidates are perceived and displayed.

While PACs are required by federal regulations to list donors, 501c organizations are not. A 501c can, in turn, donate money to a PAC. 

In the last week, the Crossroads GPS 501c organization made $965,949 in TV/Media Production or TV/Media Placement expenditures in the race.

“The SuperPAC is reporting as its donor an organization that doesn’t have to report its donors,” Maguire said.

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