The shadow following Western political races

Nevada and Arizona attract the most “dark money” this election.

 

After three decades, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring, leaving a coveted Senate seat open in Nevada, one of the West’s battleground states. It’s a pivotal race: Should Republican Joe Heck be elected, he would strengthen the GOP’s Senate majority and bring a recently blue Nevada back into the Republican fold. If Democratic contender Christine Cortez Masto wins, she would be the first Latina ever elected to the Senate. The contest is also a close one. Cortez Masto has been trailing only slightly behind Heck, according to polls by the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight, a political blog that tracks and weighs national rankings. By mid-September, nearly $4 million of so-called “dark money” contributions —which flow through a loophole-ridden system that allows tax-exempt nonprofits and super PACs to influence politics without disclosing the identities of their donors — had poured into the race.

Nationwide, such anonymous campaign contributions are on the rise. In 2012, more than $308 million in dark money was paid out, compared to $102.4 million in 2008. Nearly 60 percent of the money donated to the top 10 Senate races in 2014 was dark, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks dark money. This September, anonymous spending is 10 times higher than it was at the same point in 2012.

That’s becoming more common in the West’s battleground states: Nevada, Colorado and increasingly purple Arizona, which has long been a conservative stronghold. Nevada’s District 3 House race, between Republican Danny Tarkanian and Democrat Jacky Rosen, has attracted more than $1.8 million in anonymous funding, for example. The race for Arizona’s Senate seat, between Republican incumbent John McCain and Democratic House Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, has received more than $1.5 million, and Colorado’s Senate race has brought in nearly $120,000. And these contests are just a sampling of Western elections that are attracting dark money. On the national scale, candidates in the West and their respective races are sprinkled among the top for garnering the most shadow funds.

To explore our data, hover over states, candidates or races for more details. 

Nevada and Arizona's Senate races stand out not only in the West but also on a national scale. For both states, this election season is crucial: Since 2012, Democrats have held sway in Nevada and Republicans are vying for more influence in the important battleground state; Arizona, while securely red historically, may be trending more purple this year. 

How dark money is spent

Republicans have spent more dark money on Western candidates or to influence the region's races. In total, $19,219,789 in shadow funds were spent in favor of Republican candidates, compared to $11,434,161 for Democrats. Both parties used dark money primarily to attack their opponents, but backers of the Republican Party spent far more to promote its own candidates and issues than shadow funders of the Democratic party did: $9,244,479 to $2,685,392. 

Who's attracting the most dark money?

The graphic represents the total dark money spent for and against the candidate. In the cases of Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., Danny Tarkanian, R-NV, and other candidates, that money was spent entirely against them. For more details on each candidate, hover over each column. 

Note: Michele Fiore, Republican member of Nevada's State Assembly, was defeated in the Republican Primary by opponent Danny Tarkanian. Fiore, as High Country News has reported, has ties to the Sagebrush Rebellion and participated in negotiations with armed occupiers at Malheur Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. 

Data source for all of the above visualizations came from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Federal Elections Commission. The figures for the Heck-Cortez Masto race were averaged from national polls, as analyzed by FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times. 

Image: In July 2014 a group called Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy rallied for campaign finance reform in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By Joe Brusky/ CC Flickr 

Paige Blankenbuehler is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets

High Country News Classifieds
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. c[email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.