WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmentalists, labor and women's groups that spent more than $29 million to help House Democrats in 2012 have put up barely a quarter of that amount this year, sparking grumbling among party strategists that is likely to grow louder after Election Day.
Democrats, already in the minority, are in jeopardy of losing at least a dozen seats on Tuesday as an onslaught of outside Republican spending has overwhelmed incumbents once considered on track to re-election. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congressional Leadership Fund and American Action Network have spent nearly $10 million each targeting Democratic candidates and seats.
A desperate appeal from the chairman of the campaign committee two weeks ago for a late infusion of cash failed to sway the Democratic-leaning groups.
"You make a plea for the cavalry and the cavalry doesn't show up, you fix your own bayonets and you charge and that's what we've done," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview Saturday.
He mentioned no names, but the League of Conservation Voters spent more than $3.1 million in 2012 on House races, including a high-profile, $1.5 million campaign effort against the "Flat-Earth Five" — Republicans in New York, Michigan, California, Illinois and Texas who questioned whether climate change was real.
The spending helped knock out four and elect Democrats. This year, three of those winners are fighting to survive a tough political climate — New York's Dan Maffei, Ami Bera of California and Pete Gallego of Texas — but the league is spending elsewhere.
"Our priority this cycle was going to be protecting the pro-environment firewall in the Senate," said Jeff Gohringer, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters. "So the overwhelming majority of our election spending is going to some key Senate races."
The group is spending on the New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan, Colorado and North Carolina Senate races, including some $5 million for first-term Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina. This election, the league will spend about $25 million, a five-fold increase from 2010, largely on the Senate.
Republicans are on offense in the Senate, where they need a net of six seats to win the majority.
Gohringer said the organization is urging its followers to contribute to House Democrats and through its website has raised millions for candidates.
Republicans currently hold a 234-201 edge in the House factoring in the three vacant GOP and Democratic seats. President Barack Obama's sinking approval numbers and the nation's gloomy outlook weighed down by Islamic State group militants, the Ebola outbreak, job losses and stagnant wages raise the prospect of significant losses for the president's party.
Seizing on the growing number of opportunities to grab House seats, the GOP outside groups have outspent their Democratic counterparts $49 million to $31 million since July 1. This has helped Republicans erase the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's overall fundraising edge.
In the Chicago suburbs, GOP outside groups have spent $6.9 million since July against first-term Rep. Brad Schneider, who is clinging to his seat in a rematch against Republican Bob Dold. Bera, another freshman, is locked in a tight race against former Republican Rep. Doug Ose, who has gotten considerable help from the GOP groups' $6.9 million in ad buys in the Sacramento area.
"We always knew that in October the Republican outside groups would just drop huge money bombs on our candidates," Israel said. "We were also realistic in understanding that our traditional allies would be focused on saving the Senate. Having said that, we still had some hopes that they would assist where they could. Unfortunately we didn't see that."
One outside organization has pumped plenty of cash into ad buys and other spending for Democrats. The House Majority PAC, which spent $31 million in 2012, is close to matching that amount this election with some $28 million in spending.
But the major labor unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union — have spent nowhere near the money they invested in 2012. SEIU spent some $7 million and ASFCME spent more than $5 million.
This election, their spending is less than half a million.
Both organizations declined to comment.
Surprising to Democrats is the absence of EMILY's List, which boosts female candidates who favor abortion rights. The group has spent less than a $1 million on House races despite vulnerable female incumbents in New Hampshire, Arizona and California and promising candidates such as Gwen Graham, who has a shot at defeating two-term Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in Florida.
The group had no comment.