2010 Campaign Spending Could Set New Records

The height of the 2010 campaign is still months away, but the fundraising season is in full swing, and Republicans may be set to win the battle by a long shot. The Huffington Post got hold of a chart it says comes from Democratic strategists that indicates that a host of interest and advocacy groups likely to support Republicans have already pledged to spend $200 million this election year. As HuffPo notes, that number is greater than what interest groups of any stripe spent during the 2008 election, according to a tally from OpenSecrets.org.

Whether or not the interest groups actually raise (or spend) that much is another matter. American Crossroads, a GOP fundraising and advocacy group associated with Karl Rove, has pledged $52 million but has just begun to test its fundraising muscle and has only raised $8.5 million so far. The well-heeled U.S. Chamber of Commerce has pledged $75 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity report, more than twice what it spent in 2008, which was its highest-spending year ever.

Still, the pledges have Democratic strategists worried, or at least trying to leverage the news for their own fundraising efforts. As of its most recent Federal Election Commission filing at the end of May, the Democratic National Committee had $14.5 million cash on hand to spend on candidates across the country. Its counterparts in the Republican National Committee reported $12.6 million. That's a slight edge, but if the pledges from Republican-leaning interest groups are any indication, Democrats will have to hope for outside supporters to launch their own campaigns if they want to have the sort of financial backing that Republicans expect. Unions, a traditional source of Democratic support, are ready to spend this year, having paid more for campaign ads than corporations or advocacy groups so far in 2010, according to a Washington Post analysis. Another possible source are progressive groups like MoveOn.org, though they often buy advertising or spend resources to pressure candidates on particular issues, like health care, rather than to support an overall party strategy. Also still to be determined is the role of corporate spending, unfettered as it is this year after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

Both parties will test their fundraising strength in the weeks ahead, yet if the big numbers pledged by the chamber and other groups indicate anything now, it's that we're in for a year of unprecedented political spending. Campaigns spent more cash in 2008 than ever before, and that was before Citizens United opened what critics of that decision fear will be a torrent of spending from corporations and unions. If other groups follow the Chamber of Commerce's lead and unleash a 50 percent spending increase for the midterm elections, what heights will spending reach in 2012?