The money: Independent spending tops $1 billion.
The 2018 elections are on track to be the costliest midterms in U.S. history, with a record-shattering amount of more than $1 billion spent through Nov. 2 by groups seeking to influence voters in congressional races around the country.
The money spent by outside groups and party committees on ads and voter contacts independently of candidates this cycle significantly exceeds the $670 million spent by such entities in the 2014 midterms, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal election records.
The vast majority of the money — 80 percent — has gone to ads opposing a candidate.
Some of the biggest players in independent political spending are super PACs, which are allowed to raise unlimited sums from individuals and corporations. Their multimillion-dollar campaigns in races across the country highlight how these big-money groups, which burst onto the political scene eight years ago, have since cemented their roles as indispensable allies of candidates and parties.
On the Senate side, where Republicans have a better chance at retaining their majority in Tuesday’s elections, total independent expenditures by super PACs and party committees topped $506 million, according to data through Nov. 2.
The most expensive contest has been the Florida Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Outside groups and party committees spent $44.3 million supporting Nelson and $31.2 million backing Scott.
The race was made even more costly by the $69 million war chest amassed by Scott, a wealthy former health-care executive who largely self-funded his campaign.
Another Senate contest involving big spending is in Missouri, where Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley is trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in one of the most competitive races of the year. Hawley’s allies have spent $38 million, while McCaskill’s backers have spent $22 million.
On the House side, where Democrats are in a strong position to retake the majority and independent spending hit $532 million, the fight for control of the chamber is playing across a broad map, with 29 contests rated by the nonpartisan political handicapping website Cook Political Report as “toss-up” races.
One of the most closely watched House contests is in California’s 25th Congressional District, between Democrat Katie Hill and incumbent Rep. Steve Knight (R), which has drawn $17.3 million so far in outside spending. Of that, $11.6 million was spent in favor of Hill, a 31-year-old executive at a nonprofit organization, including a last-minute infusion from billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC.
Another expensive race has played out in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District between incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman (R) and Democrat Jason Crow. Outside groups and party committees spent $16 million on the race.
Despite initial big spending by GOP groups for Coffman, they pulled out of the race about two weeks before Election Day — a sign that Coffman’s chances of getting reelected may be dwindling.
The two biggest independent spenders in Senate races were the main super PACs aligned with the parties, each funded by wealthy donors who have pumped in millions.
The GOP Senate Leadership Fund has been buoyed by heavyweight contributors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his physician wife, Miriam, as well as Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman. The Adelsons have given more than $112.2 million to super PACs since January 2017, Federal Election Commission records show.
Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Democrats, has collected large sums from hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman and financier George Soros, among others.
Former hedge-fund executive Tom Steyer has given more than $50.5 million to super PACs this cycle.
Another major player was Independence USA, the super PAC started by Bloomberg, who recently aligned with the Democrats ahead of a potential 2020 presidential run. The super PAC spent $37 million on House races to support Democratic candidates.
On the Senate side, a big player was Defend Arizona, a super PAC supporting Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally of Arizona, which spent $17.7 million.
For a full analysis of spending, visit wapo.st/outspent
Sources: Spending data comes from the 24- and 48-hour reports filed with the Federal Election Commission between Jan. 1, 2017, and Nov. 2, 2018. It includes independent expenditures made in support or opposition to a candidate in the general election. The data does not include expenditures by candidates. To determine the vulnerability of a House seat, we used the Cook Political Report's race ratings. The Washington Post's own ratings were used for Senate seats. Ratings shown are as of Nov. 2.