October 2, 2012- WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported an investment of $4 million to help 10 Republican congressional candidates in California and Illinois.
The advertisements all begin with a 10-second clip of Darlene Miller, the winner of the Chamber's Small Business of the Year in 2008, explaining that uncertainty over taxes and health care is preventing her from hiring more workers. Then they shift to nearly identical attacks on their intended Democratic targets, criticizing higher taxes, cuts to Medicare, health care reform and high energy costs.
The Chamber ad blitz heralds the beginning of the coming crush of third-party advertising directed at House races. Super PACs, unions, trade associations and non-profits already have spent $39 million since June on general election campaign efforts, ahead of their pace in the previous election. Over the next 30 days, these groups will spend between double and triple that amount just in House races.
This is where the big money flooding the 2012 election due to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision will make its biggest splash. As commentators lament the seeming lack of impact big money has had on the presidential race, down-ballot races where candidates rarely see $10 million in contributions will be the ones feeling the full impact of the new campaign finance world.
"The scale of House races, and even Senate races, compared to the presidency is much smaller," said UC-Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen. "So, dropping six- or seven- figure spending into a race can really shake it up."
In 2010, a lot of races were shaken up by outside spending. Dr. Ami Bera, a Democratic candidate in a California House race, was hit with a late October $682,000 ad buy from the Karl Rove-founded super PAC American Crossroads. The Crossroads ad-buy amounted to nearly a quarter of all the money Bera had raised for his campaign. Bera's campaign, then gaining in the polls, went into reverse and he lost.
"[I]t's like playing a chess game," Bera explained in a segment about super PACs on the radio show This American Life. "You lay out your strategy and you're making your moves and so forth. You've taken your opponent's queen, and all of a sudden he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another queen and drops it on the table."