Fox News Ignores “Dark Money” To Pretend Democrats Are Destroying Republicans In Election Spending

Fox News is claiming that Democratic campaigns and supporters are vastly outspending their Republican counterparts during this election cycle, a suggestion that appears to focus on super PACs and ignores the influence of “dark money” spending that favors the GOP.

On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer stated that Democrats have “got a lot of money ... and they're spending it, in some states, 4-to-1 over Republican candidates.” National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg repeated a similar claim on the October 13 edition of Happening Now, downplaying secretive right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and arguing that “the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side” in contentious Senate races like the one in Kentucky:

HEATHER CHILDERS (guest host): So, a lot of this also is coming down to money. And we are talking about big amounts of money that are being spent from both sides in these particular states, so how is that going to influence things?

GOLDBERG: Sure, well, it depends on state by state. You know, in some of these places, you just don't have enough physical airtime in the space-time continuum to buy more ads. I mean, people are throwing in -- you know, the Democrats are just announcing [unintelligible] a million dollars into South Dakota. A million dollars probably would buy, you know, who knows how much airtime in South Dakota at this point. And so you're seeing things saturated all over the place. One of the things that has helped Democrats enormously is, they have actually raised vastly more money than Republicans have at a lot of these different levels. They're spending a lot more money. In North Carolina, they're outspending Republicans, I think, 2-to-1, and yet they claim that it's all the evil Koch brothers and their sort of other James Bond-like villains who are throwing all the money into Republicans. When the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side, but a lot of the mainstream media covers it as if, “Oh, it must be the Republicans who are taking advantage of all of this outside money.” [emphasis added]

On October 15, Fox News correspondent Jim Angle continued the network's inapt comparison of the Koch brothers to high-dollar Democratic donors. Angle didn't mention that unlike the progressive billionaires and unions he highlighted, conservative activists like the Kochs are unwilling to publicly stand behind the right-wing policies their billions of dollars fund.

Fox News' narrative is misrepresenting the full and current story on campaign spending, which actually shows that a deluge of undisclosed outside money is supporting Republicans and outpacing similar expenditures for Democrats -- especially in the Kentucky contest.

The 4-to-1 statistic that Hemmer used may be a reference to a widely cited report from The Wall Street Journal that found super PACs aligned with Democrats had raised four times more than their Republican counterparts. By focusing on super PAC figures, Fox News is ignoring massive spending from outside right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox News contributor Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch brothers' network of secretive and increasingly political groups. These organizations don't reveal their donors, and sometimes -- depending on the type of ad they are running -- they don't even reveal their expenditures. Groups of that sort have spent more "dark money" -- funds from undisclosed donors -- than Democratic-leaning groups have. 

The 4-to-1 ratio not only cherry-picks super PACs from the total of all independent expenditures, but as MSNBC's Zachary Roth reported, even if there is a degree of parity in overall fundraising and ad spending now, “By Election Day, the GOP will likely have an advantage, thanks to two massive conservative groups that don't disclose their donors. The Koch Brothers' network reportedly aims to spend a whopping $300 million on this election, and its most active group, Americans for Prosperity has said it will run ads specifically advocating for the defeat of Democrats in the closing days of the race. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS has said it will spend at least $23 million in the final two months in six states."

In fact, as of October 8, the ratio of support from nondisclosing groups is the reverse of the super PAC numbers Fox News trumpeted, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:

Super PACs are no longer the only story, which is why Fox News is misleading its audience by hyping the success of Democratic super PACs and ignoring the influence of dark money. According to a count by The Washington Post, conservative super PACs and dark-money groups that disclose their expenditures have outspent progressive ones $191 million to $130 million so far in this election cycle. Similarly, The New York Times reported, “Fifty-five percent of broadcast advertising in the midterm elections has been paid for by groups that do not fully disclose their donors, according to an analysis by The New York Times of advertising data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, compared with 45 percent from super PACs, which are required to file regular financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.” Broken down by partisanship, general election advertising “has overwhelmingly benefited Republican candidates.”

A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice further examined the connection between dark money and political party by looking at nine competitive Senate races to determine how dark money was influencing the campaigns. The Brennan Center's analysis determined that:

Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican independent expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 30 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats. In addition, unreported spending -- where the heavyweights are conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads -- leans Republican, meaning the 80 percent figure underestimates the true extent of the preference for secrecy among GOP supporters.

Citizens United opened the door to an avalanche of money in politics that is now being fueled by both sides of the political divide. But Fox News is trying to absolve Republicans by dismissing dark money and pretending it is not, as the Center for Responsive Politics says, “still dominated by conservative organizations.”

As the amount of conservative-leaning dark money is expected to double between now and the election, this distinction could make a huge difference. Despite Fox News' protests, the Koch brothers and others who oppose campaign finance transparency are still very much one of the big stories of 2014.