WASHINGTON - Independent groups have nearly doubled their spending in the U.S. Senate race in Washington state in the past 10 days as Republicans especially realize that control of the chamber could depend on the outcome of the race between Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and GOP challenger Dino Rossi.
Nearly $6.9 million in independent expenditures have now been spent in the Senate race with party committees, groups connected with GOP operative Karl Rove, the National Rifle Association and the American College of Surgeons among the recent top spenders, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group.
More than 60 percent of the money has been spent by groups opposing Murray. The independent expenditures have helped level the playing field for Rossi as Murray had about twice as much money in her campaign account at the end of September as her opponent.
And with the election two weeks away, the flow of independent dollars is expected to continue.
“My guess is this is not the end of it,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Cook Report.
Another analyst, Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Report, said the race is attracting a lot of attention because neither candidate has established a solid lead.
“The Senate playing field comes down to Washington, California and West Virginia,” Gonzales said. “Washington is a must-win state for Republicans if they want to get to the 10 they need to take control of the Senate.”
Republicans and other conservative groups know it.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee reported spending over $1 million on Oct. 12, and American Crossroads, a group with connections to Rove, spent nearly $275,000. When added to the spending of Crossroads GPS, another Rove-related group, more than $1 million has been injected into the Senate race by groups associated with the former political adviser to President George W. Bush.
Also in the past week or so, the NRA has spent $225,000 boosting Rossi.
Groups aligned with Democrats are not standing on the sidelines. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported spending more than $731,000 in recent days and the American College of Surgeons spent nearly $93,000 supporting Murray.
Groups opposing Murray have spent $3.3 million; those against Rossi have spent $2.1 million.
Independent expenditures also have become a factor in three of the state’s congressional races.
In the open 3rd Congressional District race, more than $2.1 million has been spent by independent groups, with roughly twice as much being spent opposing Democrat Denny Heck than Republican Jaime Herrera. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent almost $933,000 and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee $642,000, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The district stretches from Olympia south to the Columbia River.
The American Future Fund, a conservative group that has focused on health care issues, also has spent $480,000 opposing Heck.
In the 2nd Congressional District in northwest Washington, independent groups have spent $1.2 million. All of the money, mostly from the American Future Fund, has been spent opposing incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen.
In the 8th Congressional District in east King and Pierce counties, independent groups have spent nearly $670,000, most of it supporting incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. The National Association of Realtors was the leading spender at $550,300.
Prior to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in January, there were strict limits on how much contributors could give and rules requiring the disclosure of contributors’ names. The court, however, removed the curbs on how much independent groups could give and ruled that the names of contributors, in many cases, don’t have to be disclosed. The independent groups can have no contact with the actual campaigns to coordinate their advertising message.
Critics say the decision has opened up the political process to secret, unlimited corporate contributions while defenders say it’s a freedom of speech issue.
The business community, unions and other interest groups and political committees have taken advantage of the ruling.
The independent spending supplements what the campaigns raise and spend on their own.
As of Sept. 30, Murray had raised $13.7 million, spent $14.6 million and had $3.2 million in her campaign account, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. Of Murray’s contributions, about $10.2 million came from individuals and almost $3.4 million from political action committees.
President Barack Obama raised more than $700,000 for Murray during a campaign swing several months ago. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected this week to raise additional money for Murray. And former President Bill Clinton visited Everett with Murray on Monday.
Rossi has raised $5.6 million since launching his campaign earlier this year, spent nearly $2.6 million and has $1.7 million in the bank, according to FEC reports.
Of Rossi’s contributions, $5.2 million came from individual contributors and $387,000 from PACs.
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008 email@example.com