DATA RELEASE:"Social Welfare" Groups Dominate Dark Money Spending on Congressional Elections

February 19, 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 the Federal Election Commission and, MapLight has produced a series of reports and visualizations on how the growth of "dark money" has impacted the nature of spending in elections. We look at changes in the overall flow of money in congressional elections, as well as details of how spending on four key Senate races and 'toss-up' races in the 2012 election cycle were impacted by these changes.

Our first report examines the exponential growth in spending by 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations in congressional elections from January 1, 1999 - December 31, 2012:

"Social Welfare" Groups Dominate Dark Money Spending on Congressional Elections 

Political spending on congressional elections by dark money groups-organizations that spend money on elections but do not have to disclose the sources of their money - increased dramatically over the past several elections. The vast majority of that increase can be attributed to so-called "social welfare" organizations. These groups, considered 501(c)(4) nonprofits, increased spending on congressional elections from $84 million in 2010 to $133 million in 2012. According to U.S. Code they are supposed to be civic leagues "operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare." 

As we move into the 2014 election cycle, the growth in spending by social welfare groups is showing no sign of slowing down. According to, social welfare groups have already spent $3.7 million.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: A link to this report can be found here. 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
c: 415-299-0898 | e: | t: @imonlyabill