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About that Democratic 'outside money advantage'...

Cornell Woolridge takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on campaign finance, October 8, 2013.
Cornell Woolridge takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on campaign finance, October 8, 2013.
There's a big AP article that's made the rounds today with a headline that offers surprising news: "Democrats Have Outside Money Advantage - for Now." The piece goes on to report, "Democrats, at least for the moment, seem to have a roughly 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans in cash raised and banked through independent groups, according to the early filings."
Reading this, it's tempting to think Democrats and their allies, just 202 days before the midterms, must be in great shape. Despite all the fears of conservative billionaires helping buy the entire election cycle for congressional Republicans, here's evidence that it's Dems with the big financial advantage, at least as of now.
But if this doesn't quite sit right, there's a very good reason. Consider this excerpt from the AP piece (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up):

Groups that disclose whose money is coming in and how much is going out on a quarterly basis faced a midnight Tuesday deadline. Groups that release that information on a monthly basis have until Sunday to post their reports. For instance, National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund has until Sunday to file. Through the end of February, the Republican-leaning group had raised almost $14 million. And Americans for Prosperity, one of the most aggressive in running ads against Democrats as part of the billionaire Koch brothers' network of conservative groups, does not have to disclose its donors because, under tax rules, it is technically not political.

Don't brush past this too quickly, it's important.
On the one hand, Democrats "seem to have a roughly 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans" when it comes to outside campaign cash.
On the other hand, this doesn't include major far-right groups that haven't filed their campaign-finance reports yet and it doesn't include the Koch brothers' operation.
Remember, in order to keep the finances secret and shielded from public scrutiny, a variety of political operations technically describe themselves as "social welfare" organizations under the law, not political action committees. These "social welfare" groups run campaign ads and generally appear to be intervening in elections in support of or in opposition to various candidates, but the legal fine print insists they're not actually campaign operations. They only seem like campaign operations.
And it's this subtle distinction that makes quite a difference. When the Associated Press tells the public Dems "seem to have a roughly 3-to-1 advantage" on outside funds, this is true -- just so long as you exclude all the outside funds from "social welfare" organizations, such as the "Koch brothers' network of conservative groups," which "is technically not political."
In other words, in practice, one might say the "roughly 3-to-1 advantage" doesn't really exist at all.