In the final days before the 2014 midterm election last week, House Majority PAC spent $1.8 million on TV ads that the Democratic "super PAC" hoped would sink U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm. The group reminded voters that the Staten Island, New York, Republican is under indictment on several counts of mail, wire and tax fraud charges, adding that he voted against raising the minimum wage. Mr. Grimm won handily anyway.
The last-minute spending was part of an $11.16 million push by House Majority PAC, which was formed along with Senate Majority PAC in 2011 in response to an onslaught of post-Citizens United cash from the right, during the last two weeks of campaigning. Around $10 million of that went to producing TV commercials and buying time to air them.
Spending by outside groups, as opposed to campaigns themselves, increased by more than 66% in the 2014 election cycle compared to the 2010 midterms, according to an October 29 Center for Responsive Politics report. And plenty of that spending came down to the wire.
"PACs as well as campaigns are looking to drive home persuasion and GOTV [Get-Out-the-Vote] messages till the very end, so depending on their strategy they could be adding to their TV spend on persuasion and motivation till the last minute," said Joe Fuld, president of The Campaign Workshop, a Democratic consulting firm.
"The hard part is that the later you spend the less likely it is that your message will sink in due to timing and the din of ads at the end," he added.
Senate Majority PAC reported spending even more than House Majority PAC between Oct. 21 and Election Day on Nov. 4, laying out $12 million in that period, according to an initial Advertising Age analysis of Federal Election Commission data.
Ad Age evaluated independent expenditures on TV, direct mail, digital ads, radio and print ads made by outside groups that were reported in the last two weeks before the election, which resulted in a new Republican majority in the Senate and the largest GOP House majority since the '40s. Independent expenditures are those made in direct support or opposition to a candidate by outside groups not coordinating with campaigns. Some of the payments reported in the final weeks may have paid for ads that ran earlier in the election season.
The League of Conservation Voters proved to be a third major supporter of Democrats in the last couple weeks of the cycle, spending around $4 million in independent expenditures, much of it on direct mail.
On the right, Karl Rove-affiliated PAC American Crossroads looks like it led the pack, spending $11.7 million on direct mail, TV, online ads and radio spots in the final two weeks. The National Rifle Association spent $5.1 million in the period, according to FEC data, some on direct mail but the bulk of it on TV.