Money & Politics

This Week In Political Money: Outside Groups Dump $170M in Late Congressional Blitz; The World Series Political Connection

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This Week In Political Money: The World Series' Political Connection

Tom Ricketts and ex-Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL, last year. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

We’ll be posting this roundup each week leading up to Election Day. Share your thoughts about these must-read stories and always feel free to suggest your own in the comments section.


While most of the attention in the closing days of this campaign is focused on the race for the White House, the truth is, the new occupant won’t be able to do much without support from Congress. So it’s no surprise that a lot of big donors are making heavy investments in that area. In just the last 10 days, outside groups have dumped more than $170 million into key contests for US House and Senate seats. These “independent expenditure groups” — super PACs and dark-money nonprofits — are allowed to raise and donate money in unlimited amounts as long as they do not directly contribute to candidates or coordinate with their campaigns. The money usually goes to things like advertising (for a candidate or against a rival) and get-out-the-vote efforts that benefit a particular campaign.

We’ve got the full scoop on the big spenders and where the money is going.

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Speaking in Florida yesterday, President Barack Obama said of the election, “sometimes the temptation is to tune it out, and you want to just focus on the Cubs winning the World Series. Which, by the way, even for a White Sox fan, is a pretty big deal.” And not just because the president, who hails from Chicago, is a diehard for the team from the other end of the Loop. The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts family, which, over the past several years, has poured some $40 million into elections, almost exclusively to oppose Democrats.

The family, whose fortune comes from TD Ameritrade, is behind the Ending Spending Action Fund, which has spent aggressively to help Republicans hold onto Congress, and in 2012 considered a plan to run a racially charged campaign against Obama. Most of the clan are now Trump supporters, though one member of the family also donated to an anti-Trump PAC during the Republican primary, prompting the Republican nominee to tell The Washington Post, “I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.” Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if Ricketts Inc. accepts the president’s invite:


It’s so easy to outsource your campaign through a consultant or an outside group of some sort and then not tell the public where the money’s going.

— Federal Elections Commission member Ann Ravel, quoted in a Politico article explaining how both parties exploit loopholes and election-law vagueness to hide their funders from the public.

Figures for presidential and congressional races from the Center for Responsive Politics; figures for state races from the National Institute of Money in State Politics. All figures as of Nov. 2.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics recently took a look at the rise of “outside spending” in the states. We’ve known for years that, as a series of Supreme Court decisions deregulated campaign spending, groups not affiliated with candidates have spent larger and larger sums in congressional and presidential elections. By giving to these groups, donors can avoid regulations that are still in place on how much they can give directly to candidates. The Institute’s research shows that these same trends have also occurred at the state level. In recent years, researcher Calder Burgam writes, the Republican Governors Association and an affiliated, Massachusetts-based group, Commonwealth Future, were the top spenders in the states for which the Institute had data.



That’s the amount the NRA has spent on “independent expenditures” — ads not coordinated with a candidate — in the presidential race since the beginning over October. All of these ads either support Donald Trump and/or attack Hillary Clinton. Second only to Priorities USA Action, Hillary Clinton’s super PAC, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has spent the most on the presidential election in these final weeks of the presidential election.

The Chinese

Foreign nationals aren’t allowed to donate to our presidential election, but the Trump campaign and its supporters keep hitting them up anyway. Members of Parliament from the United Kingdom and Australia confirmed to reporters over the summer that the campaign was asking them for donations. Now the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, has filed a complaint alleging that a super PAC supporting Trump solicited donations from, ironically, the Chinese. “In emails with the reporters and secretly recorded meetings, Jesse Benton, a former chief strategist at Great America PAC, and Eric Beach, co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, provided instructions on how a Chinese businessman could launder foreign money into the super PAC — a clear violation of the law,” the good government group said in a press release announcing its complaint.

Florida’s where it’s at, at the moment. Trump held a breakfast fundraiser there on Wednesday morning, and Hillary Clinton will hold a last-minute fundraiser (with Cher) in Miami on Sunday.

John Light


John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.