Reporting on campaign fundraising is difficult and often unsatisfying. It's just too easy to get lost in a sea of zeroes and acronyms, with competing campaign committees and candidates filing monthly and quarterly reports that few pay any attention to. The numbers seem pointless.
That said, I hope folks will pause to look at one number is particular: $35 million.
Americans for Prosperity is definitely putting its money where its mouth is.The conservative non-profit political advocacy group backed by the deep pockets of billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch announced Wednesday that it will spend around $2.5 million over the next two weeks to run television commercials critical of the federal health care law in four states where Democrats face a challenge in keeping Senate seats in party hands.The ad buys in Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and New Hampshire bring to more than $35 million in AFP spending this election cycle on TV spots that highlight how the group says Obamacare has negatively impacted average Americans.
It matters a great deal that these AFP ads include claims that aren't true. Indeed, Americans for Prosperity have established an unsettling pattern of investing in attack ads that too often crumble when subjected to routine fact-checking.
But when it comes to the finances, note that that the report says these latest ad buys raise the total of AFP spending this cycle to $35 million.
Independently, that number probably doesn't have any meaning as a stand-alone figure, so let's add some context.
Just this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is responsible for supporting Dem candidates in 435 U.S. House races, announced it has $40.2 million in the bank to be used in this year's midterm elections. Its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, has about $31.2 million in cash on hand for the year.
On the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has more than $22 million in the bank, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee has $15.9 million in cash on hand.
In other words, put in this context, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity has already spent -- in mid-April, roughly 200 days before the actual election -- more money than the major-party campaign committees have for the entire year.
In practical terms, Democrats aren't facing a rival party in the 2014 midterms; they're effectively facing two rival parties: Republicans and the Kochs' AFP.
And the latter, we now know, has an unfortunate habit of airing ads that offensive, deceptive, hypocritical, and occasionally all three.
It's important to note that billionaire-backed attack ads don't necessarily translate into electoral success. AFP has already invested $35 million -- one can only guess where this total will end up by Election Day -- and the group's preferred candidates are nevertheless losing in most of those contests.
But the figures themselves are nevertheless striking. When the Associated Press reports that Democrats currently "have a roughly 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans in cash raised and banked through independent groups," just so long as we overlook the Koch brothers, that's painting a deeply misleading picture of reality.