DATA RELEASE: State of Dark Money in Virginia and Ohio

March 4, 2014 - Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. F.E.C. that corporations, unions, and other organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The court decision interacted with existing laws and led to an increase in 'dark money'-spending to influence elections where the source of the spending is hidden from the public. 

Since then, dark money and other forms of independent expenditures have become a leading area of growth in political spending, contributing to the most expensive elections in history and adding more secrecy around political money in elections.

Using data from and the Federal Election Commission, MapLight has produced a series of reports and visualizations on how the growth of dark money has impacted the nature of spending in elections. 

In this report we look at the dark money in the 2012 Virginia and Ohio Senate races.

State of Dark Money: Virginia Senate Race Saw the Most Dark Money 

During the 2012 election cycle, dark money groups-groups not required to disclose their donors to the Federal Elections Commission-spent more on Virginia races than on races in any other state. In Virginia, the groups focused their spending on the Senate race between Democratic candidate Tim Kaine and Republican candidate George Allen.

  • $19.7 million was spent by dark money groups to influence the Virginia Senate race in 2012, more than in any other congressional race that cycle.
  • 95 percent of the dark money spending in the Virginia Senate race was spent on negative advertising and other means to oppose candidates ($18.8 million of $19.7 million).
  • Dark money groups favoring George Allen spent 5.6 times more money than dark money groups favoring Tim Kaine ($16.7 million and $3 million).

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State of Dark Money: In Ohio, As Dark Money Poured in, the Race Tightened

Heading into 2012, Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of the Ohio congressional delegation since 1993, was the clear front-runner in his re-election bid against Republican rival Josh Mandel, holding a 15 percentage point lead in the polls in January. But by September, as the dark money began pouring in, the race between Brown and Mandel had developed into a virtual toss-up with public polling data showing Brown's lead down to just three percentage points.

  • Dark money groups favoring Republican candidate Josh Mandel spent 13 times more than dark money groups favoring Democratic candidate Sherrod Brown ($13 million and $1 million).

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Last week, MapLight released a report examining the dark money in the 2012 Nevada race:

State of Dark Money: In Nevada, the Candidate With the Most Dark Money Won Senate Seat

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click to view VirginiaOhio and Nevada reports. Please cite MapLight if you use data from this analysis, "A MapLight analysis of data..."

About MapLight: MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that tracks money's influence on politics.

Media Contact: Pamela Behrsin

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