Three-quarters of a million dollars in "dark money" was injected into the 17th Congressional District race Friday by Crossroads GPS, which is closely linked to Republican operative Karl Rove.
The group put $749,000 into the race, investing in a big advertising campaign against Democrat Cheri Bustos that could boost her opponent, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona. Crossroads has used its tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit to keep the names of its donors secret.
The Crossroads money comes on top of $621,000 spent by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, which also uses not-for-profit status to hide the names of donors to its campaign funds.
"Dark money" is described as funds from nonprofit groups that legally do not have to disclose their donors. The organizations join the wave from outside groups swamping the 17th District with outside money.
The Federal Election Commission reports that, as of Friday, close to $4.5 million has been invested in the race so far by a dozen different organizations. That figure doesn't include the $749,000 by Crossroads which, by Friday, had yet to be reported by the FEC.
Outside groups are spending their money in the 17th District on TV, online, radio and newspaper advertising, surveys, mailers, door hangers and canvassing. The groups include traditional political action committees, super PACs and the new breed of nonprofit outside groups.
Rep. Schilling and Ms. Bustos are furiously raising cash on their own in one of the most expensive and closely watched races in the nation.Outside spending, or independent expenditures, is used independently of the two campaigns.
New money comes into the race on an almost daily basis.The infusion of money from Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is giving Republicans the edge in outside spending in the 17th District.
But who are these outside groups spending big -- so far, nearly $5.2 million combined -- in an attempt to sway 17th District voters?
National Republican Congressional Committee - $1.29 million The NRCC is the campaign arm of House Republicans. It has run a series of negative television commercials in the 17th District.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - $1.23 million The DCCC is the NRCC's counterpart for Democrats. It also has plowed money into campaign commercials of the negative variety.
Crossroads GPS - $749,000 Formed in 2010 with the support of Karl Rove and American Crossroads, the organization is one of the new breed of nonprofit dark money groups. Crossroads spent $70 million in the 2010 elections but only reported spending half that amount to the FEC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.Steven Law, former general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is president of Crossroads. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Crossroads is allowed by the IRS to spend some money on political activity, provided its primary goal is "social welfare."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce - $621,000 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a conservative lobbying group representing the interests of businesses and other industry associations. In the 17th District, the organization has been running negative ads against Ms. Bustos. The U.S. Chamber spent $33 million on electioneering communications in the 2010 election cycle. As a501(c)(6) nonprofit business association, it does not have to disclose its donors.
House Majority PAC - $472,000 The House Majority PAC is a super PAC that supports House Democrats and can take unlimited contributions.Its donors include unions and billionaire investor George Soros and a number of big unions.The $472,000 is the ninth largest amount among dozens of congressional races the super PAC is targeting. The House Majority PAC has spent almost all of its money in the 17th District on TV ads, but also spent a small sum on radio commercials.
Service Employees International Union PEA-Federal - $213,000 The SEIU's super PAC has spent $10.6. million in independent expenditures in the 2012 cycle to back Democrats and oppose Republicans. In the 17th District, it has spent $87,000 on TV advertising and put the rest of its money into canvassing, "bird-dogging" and rallies, according to FEC reports. Before the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, unions could only knock on the doors of union families. Now they can canvass anywhere.
Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education - $184,055 SEIU COPE, as the group is known, is the SEIU's traditional political action committee. The group has put its money into TV ads and canvassing.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - $150,000 AFSCME, comprised of 3,500 local unions, is a significant player in this election cycle, having put more than $12 million into independent expenditures for campaigns across the country. Last week itput $150,000 in a 17th District TV advertising campaign.
New Prosperity Foundation - $123,717 A Chicago-based super PAC opposing Ms. Bustoscan raise and spend unlimited amounts. The group is focused on the Midwest; its chairmen areGregory Baise, who leads the Illinois Manufacturers Association, andRonald Gidwitz, a Chicago businessman who unsuccessfully ran for Illinois governor as a Republican in 2010. Ithas spent money on mailers, door hangers and TV advertising in the 17th District. In total, the group has spent about $900,000 in the election so far, either against Democrats or for Republicans.
Women Vote! - $91,579 The offshoot of Emily's List -- the pro-choice group that backs Democrats -- was founded in 1995. It targets female voters using "sophisticated research, including modeling, to identify key segments of the female electorate." In the 17th District, the group has paid for mailers supporting Ms. Bustos or opposing Rep. Schilling.
Lunch Pail Republicans - $54,907 The group of pro-union Republicans was begun in Indiana this year by members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 to resist Republican plans to turn Indiana into a right-to-work state. That campaign was unsuccessful.A spokesman for the group told the Huffington Post it is supporting Republicans who don't appear likely to oppose "prevailing wage" laws or push for right-to-work legislation that diminishes the clout of unions. In Illinois, the group is backing Republican candidates such as Rep. Schilling, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-McHenry, and U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale.
NFIB The Voice of Free Enterprise Inc. - $11,308 The spin-off of the National Federation of Independent Business is a major conservative lobbying group. As a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, it can take unlimited contributions but does not have tor reveal its donors. In the 17th District, the group has spent its money on online advertising.
National Right to Life Political Action Committee - $14.19 Formed by the National Right to Life Committee, a"federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters," the group is the "nation's oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization."
Sources: Sunlight Foundation, Federal Election Commission, The Center for Responsive Politics