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Outside Special Interest Groups Outspent Crow, Coffman In Key House Race


Special interest groups poured money into 16 hot political races across the country in 2018, including the one in which Democratic Rep. Jason Crow ousted five-term Republican Mike Coffman.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that allowed unlimited spending by groups to elect or defeat candidates in 2010. A record level of spending fueled the 2018 election cycle.

"Since that 2010 Citizens United decision, there have been 48 congressional races in which non-candidate, non-party groups like super PACs and dark money groups have outspent the candidates — and one-third of that total occurred in 2018," said Michael Beckel, a researcher with the nonpartisan Issue One election watchdog group.Control of the U.S. House of Representatives came down to a small number of races in last year’s elections. In those contests, money from special interests set an interesting new record.

  In the 16 races, Beckel's group found so-called "dark money" groups and super PACs outspent the candidates' campaigns. In Colorado's 6th Congressional District, here's how it played out.

First, the numbers

Between them, Crow and Coffman tallied about $9.3 million for their own campaigns, but $11.7 million flowed in from super PACs and dark money groups.

Both types of groups are able to collect unlimited sums of money from donors. While super PACs are required to disclose their donors, dark money groups do not have to. Dark money was a factor in races outside Colorado, but still accounted for roughly 10 percent of the outside money in the Crow-Coffman battle.

What kinds of groups were giving?

The biggest spenders were the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, which reported spending about $2.4 million in favor of Coffman, and a gun violence prevention group called Giffords PAC, which spent about $1.5 million.

So what's the concern?

Candidates can lose control of their own messages during a campaign, a trend that Issue One saw across the country. Coffman said outside money hurt his ability to get the messages he wanted to voters — even when it came from groups that wanted to see him re-elected.

"For outside groups sending money, allegedly to help you, you don't control that message because you can't coordinate with them," Coffman said. "Conversely, your opponent does not control what the outside do spending money against you. I think there's a lack of transparency in that process."And outside money that aims to help a candidate can backfire. Coffman mentioned one particular ad attacking Crow's legal background and said it created an opening for attacks against him, hurting his campaign.

Does money decide the race?

Money is an influencer, but it isn't everything in a political race. Coffman said his biggest problem was President Trump, another influencer of political messages in Colorado.

"Even though he didn't campaign in Colorado, it was like he was in everybody's living room every day, making news on these rallies he was holding," Coffman said. "So it was impossible because of that, I would say — more than anything else — to get my message out to the voters."

Copyright 2019 KUNC

Email: lpaterson@insideenergy.org; leighpaterson@rmpbs.org
I joined KUNC in 2016 to oversee news operations just as the station changed its format to round-the-clock news and information. I got my start as a journalist at the turn of the century, working as a newspaper. I took the advice of my mentors and didn't get too comfortable at any one place, working in several newsrooms along Colorado's Front Range, learning a little more about the state each place I went. I spread my wings as a freelancer after that. I worked for many publications, including Salon, 5280 magazine in Denver and my own, now-defunct bloggy news site that, among other things, ran cartoons rejected by the New Yorker. I also got my first taste of broadcast journalism, working for "48 Hours Mystery," "60 Minutes" and, eventually, a day job as a producer at the investigative desk at 7News in Denver. My first story in public radio was a collaboration with KUNC in a subject I've long explored -- the treatment of injured troops returning home from war. It won a national Edward R. Murrow award, one of the many awards over my career I've been lucky enough to win. In 2017, I won a Columbia-duPont award for my investigation into the same subject with NPR Investigative Correspondent Danny Zwerdling.
Leigh Paterson
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