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Money From GOP Outside Groups Sparse in House Battles

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Outside groups are prohibited from coordinating with the party campaign committees, but they do spend their money based on the moves of the NRCC, led by Rep. Pete Sessions (above), and the DCCC, led by Rep. Steve Israel.

YG Action Fund, a super PAC founded by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has spent about $6 million so far helping Republican House candidates, part of about $10 million in planned spending. Its sister organization, the Young Guns Network, has spent millions more on issue advocacy.

Meanwhile, Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC has spent more than $11 million on its own so far helping Democratic candidates and millions more in concert with the Service Employees International Union. House Majority PAC has at least $11 million left to spend, a spokesman said.

At the same time, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have spent significant sums hammering Republicans in specific competitive House races.

“One of the big stories of this election in the House is that the Democratic outside groups have been more aggressive and spent more money on control of the House than business and Republican groups have,” top Republican strategist Brad Todd said.

Part of the trouble for Republicans and their allies is that outside dollars become less effective as each day passes. The competition in the top broadcast markets drives up the price to air advertisements — especially compared with TV time reserved early:

• In Sacramento, Calif., home to four competitive House races, outside groups pay about $1,100 per gross rating point — about $1 million to air a week of ads at saturation levels. In April, the cost was about $510 per point.

• In Las Vegas, outside groups pay about $600 per point. That’s twice the cost per point in April.

• On Boston’s Interconnect cable market, outside groups pay $1,800 per point to advertise in any of three nearby House races. Earlier this year, the cost was $700 per point.

• In smaller markets, such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Wausau, Wis., outside groups pay $125 to $165 per point. That’s three times the rate candidates receive.

Given the rising prices and the narrowing window before Election Day, Democrats are pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of third-party spending against them on the House front.

“They’re not overwhelming us in races that matter, that I can see,” said Steve Murphy, a Democratic media consultant. “I don’t think it’s as bad as it was originally conceived.”

Both Republican and Democratic outside groups engage in a careful ballet to put money in competitive races without overlapping with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee — all while not violating rules that prohibit coordinating with the committees.

“Before we buy, we look to see where the NRCC is, where other groups are, where the Democrats are,” one aide to a GOP outside group said. “We don’t want to throw money on top of money. You need to analyze the field and call the right offense or defense depending upon what the other players are doing.”

Democrats have been particularly pleased with how House Majority PAC, run by Alixandria Lapp, a former top staffer at the DCCC, has coordinated with the party committee and campaigns’ spending without actually coordinating.

“They’ve been a tremendous asset,” Democratic pollster Jef Pollock said. “And they’ve been on message in campaign after campaign.”

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