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Campaign spending reaches record heights

Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.

— James Garfield, 1877

Election spending for the 2012 cycle looks to be one of the highest of all time. Spending by outside groups, such as super PACs and other organizations, has surpassed money spent in all previous cycles combined, going back to 1990, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

“And in that universe, money spent by groups that don’t disclose their donors is playing a far bigger role than it ever has,” the center stated on its website, OpenSecrets.org. Outside organizations are not endorsed by candidates, are not required to disclose where its money comes from, and can spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing a candidate indirectly, such as through advertisements.

U.S. Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon have been the most affected by this phenomenon at the local level. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent $259,000 attacking McMahon with mailers, and Majority PAC has spent nearly $513,000 trying to prevent McMahon’s election.

More than $6 million of outside money has been spent attacking McMahon, while only $21,384 has been spent by these kinds of organizations against Murphy. Roughly $838,000 was spent in support of McMahon by outside organizations, which, by contrast, spent around $1.1 million supporting Murphy.

Negative campaigning also plagues this race, and others. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $3.2 million on anti-McMahon ads, while it only spent $360,000 for positive ads for the entire Democratic slate of candidates running for state offices.

As of Wednesday, Oct. 17, McMahon had spent $40 million of her own money, which is 96% of her total spending. Most of her contributions came from people in the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors, with people working in investments and securities her largest individual contributors. Morgan Stanley employees and/or PACs gave her $23,550, more than any other company, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Murphy, by contrast, raised a total of $9.3 million, with 72% of that coming in the form of large contributions of more than $200, according to the Center. Like McMahon, the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors donated the most to Murphy, and his largest contributions came from employees and PACs of Travelers Companies, which gave him $31,000 and $10,000, respectively.

Employees and PACs of JPMorgan Chase gave McMahon nearly $10,000 and Murphy  $27,250. There are no records on file for Libertarian Senate candidate Paul Passarelli at the Center for Responsive Politics. Michael Coleman will also be on the ballot as a write-in candidate. Information on his campaign was also not available.

For the U.S. House of Representatives, the race is not quite as dramatic, although the similarities in sources of money between the candidates tell an interesting tale.

Incumbent and Democrat Jim Himes has raised $2.9 million as of mid-October, with 61% of that money coming from donations of $200 or more. He was given nearly $1 million by PACs, mostly from business-focused PACs, with $81,500 coming from labor PACs. Most of his money came from in-state sources, while 29% came from outside Connecticut, according to the Center.

Securities and investment firms gave Himes more money than other industries, at nearly $144,000. General Electric employees and PACs were the most giving business to Himes, donating a total of $42,000 for his cause. People from Bain Capital, the investment firm co-founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, gave Himes $15,000 total.

Republican challenger Steve Obsitnik has raised over $1.6 million for his campaign, with 73% of his donations being more than $200 each. He has spent nearly $334,000 of his own money, and received just over $43,000 from PACs. Like Himes, most of his money came from in-state sources, while 34% — slightly more than Himes — came from outside Connecticut, according to the Center.

Also like Himes, Obsitnik got most of his money from securities and investment firms, his top donor being employees and PACs of JPMorgan Chase, which gave him $21,250 total. JPMorgan Chase-associated entities also gave to Himes a total of $14,500.

Trinity super PAC, a PAC based in Washington, D.C. and created by Michael G. Adams, spent nearly $25,000 on ads against Himes in this election cycle. The source of this money does not have to be disclosed, according to the recent Citizens United court ruling.

The Center for Responsive Politics only provides information on federal elections. At the state level, citizens need to examine electronic filings through the State Elections Enforcement Commission. The National Institute on Money in State Politics also has this information, although it is not frequently updated.

State Sen. Bob Duff, a Democrat who represents Norwalk and the northern part of Darien, had raised more than $18,000 for his campaign against Republican challenger Jack Chiaramonte, who has raised $3,156 as of June 30, according to the most recent state records.

State Sen. Carlo Leone, a Democrat who represents Stamford and the southern portion ofd Darien, had raised $16,320 as of Sept. 25. Republican challenger Barry Michelson had raised $1,820 as of June 30, and Green Party candidate Ronald W. Sala had not received any money by that date.

State Rep. Terrie Wood, a Republican who represents central and eastern Darien along with parts of Norwalk, had raised $19,020 as of Sept. 30, with most of that money coming after June 30, according to state records. As of Aug. 5, her Democratic challenger, Darienite Rober Werner, had raised $6,700, with $1,000 coming from his own money. Werner voluntarily signed on to the Citizens Election Campaign, which precludes signers from accepting large donations and money from super PACs

State Rep. William Tong, a Democrat who represents most of Stamford and the western tip of Darien, had raised $5,845 by June 30 for his bid to keep his seat, while Republican challenger Nicola Tarzia had raised $6,065 as of Oct. 2. The winner of this race will represent the portion of Darien that was taken from Rep. Wood’s district after the recent redistricting. It includes the town’s RTM District 3.

All this spending pales in comparison to the presidential election. Combining contributions, party spending and super PAC expenses, spending on President Barack Obama and challenger Romney totals nearly $2 billion. This is more than the nominal GDP of at least 30 countries, according to the United Nations, and is the combined GDP of eight countries with the lowest GDPs.

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