We've been writing a lot lately about the heavy spending this campaign season by interest groups who've been freed up to put lots and lots of ads on TV because of the Supreme Court's ruling earlier this year in the Citizens United case.
And as NPR's Peter Overby reported Tuesday, it's not always easy to figure out where the money's coming from because some groups are using tax-exempt social-welfare spinoffs that don't have to identify their contributors — a tactic that some campaign finance watchdogs think the IRS needs to crack down on.
On All Things Considered today, NPR's Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson look at what the millions of dollars of money being spent by the independent groups is doing to the Republican and Democratic parties.
For the GOP, Don says, the heavy spending by independents creates opportunities — and challenges:
"Veteran Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos," Don reports, "says it all creates lot of options for potential donors. They can be anonymous or not. But they no longer have to assume that there are limited ways for them to get involved." That's good for spreading the Republican message.
Good, that is, unless "these independent groups stray from the disciplined message of a campaign," Don adds. "They may, for example, talk about Social Security or abortion at a time when a candidate is trying to downplay such things."
Another plus, though, is that the money independent groups are spending on ads can free up some of the Republican Party's funds for other uses — such as getting out the vote.
On the Democratic side, Mara says, the party is "at a disadvantage this year because of the flood of unlimited, undisclosed donations to outside groups spending on behalf of Republicans. Democrats do have independent expenditure groups of their own — the unions, environmental groups, MoveOn.org — but they haven't been able to keep up with the gusher of conservative campaign cash uncorked by the Supreme Court ruling."
Looking ahead, Mara reports, a key question for Democrats will be whether President Obama can rebuild and expand the "vaunted small donor fundraising machine" that his campaign used so effectively in 2008.
But that is an issue for the 2012 election, not this year's.
For more on Citizens United and its effect on fundraising and campaign ads, see our earlier post from Fresh Air's Melody Kramer.