WASHINGTON (AP) — Need proof outside money is going to matter in this year's elections? Just look at spending this week.
Republicans are sending almost $2 million into a Florida special election for the U.S. House, and Democrats are standing by with almost the same amount. A group backed by conservative billionaire oil heirs David and Charles Koch is running ads nationwide criticizing the federal health care law. And Democrats are trying to fight back against the Koch brothers' political influence, starting with an ad of their own in a key Senate race in Iowa.
The flurry of spending illustrates the outsized role outside groups are expected to play in the midterm elections. Disclosure of the new spending comes a day before federal candidates have to report how much money they raised and spent on their own last year in the run-up to November's elections. That's when voters will determine the balance of power in the House and Senate. Thirty-six governors' offices also are up for grabs.
Taken as a whole, ad spending so far shows a lopsided contest favoring Republicans and their allies. Americans for Prosperity, one of the Koch brothers' projects, has spent more on television ads this year in seven states with competitive Senate races than all Democratic groups combined have spent on Senate races in 10 hard-fought states.
That advantage is likely to grow, as eyes turn to a March 11 special election in Florida, where Republican David Jolly faces Democrat Alex Sink to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Bill Young's term. The Republican lawmaker died in October.
American Crossroads, an outside group with ties to veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove, and the American Action Network, which is affiliated with House GOP leaders, will each spend $500,000 to help Jolly, a former Young aide and lobbyist. YG Network, a political group run by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is sending $200,000 to help Jolly defeat Sink, the state's former chief financial officer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate.
Separately, the National Republican Congressional Committee is spending more than $200,000 on television ads opposing Sink, and the Republican Party of Florida has spent $427,000 on mailers to voters.
In one mailer, the party says Sink, a former bank executive, "made $8.8 million in three years, even though she eliminated thousands of Florida jobs." The state GOP also says her bank targeted older votes and minority voters with "deceptive and misleading" advice.
Another mailer says she supports the federal health law and yet another points out her use of state airplanes.
"We can't trust Alex Sink with our tax dollars. She's not one of us," says one of the mailers, which are not from the Jolly campaign.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has run $200,000 on 30-second ads criticizing Jolly for his time as a lobbyist, and the committee has reserved another $1.8 million in advertising to help Sink in coming weeks.
The flood of outside money also is seen in other races.
Americans for Prosperity, for instance, already has spent around $6 million to criticize Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and another $1.7 million to criticize Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The two are among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.
This week, the group started airing a weeklong national ad buy on Fox News Channel and CNN criticizing President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul and highlighting Americans who saw their health care policies change, despite Obama's promise that wouldn't happen. More than $500,000 in airtime has been purchased.
Democrats have countered by trying to make Americans for Prosperity — and their Koch backers — a liability for GOP candidates.
In Iowa, a super PAC devoted to keeping Democrats in control of the Senate is spending $225,000 for ads helping Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat likely to be the party's nominee in the state's open Senate race.
The Senate Majority PAC ad criticizes "out-of-state billionaires playing politics with health care," a reference to the Koch brothers. The pair, heirs to an industrial fortune who have spent heavily to back Republican candidates, have become a rallying point for some Democrats who oppose the rise of unlimited outside spending in politics.