Interest Groups Pouring Millions Into 2014 Senate Races

Interest group advertising pours into Senate races;
almost 60 percent of group spending is undisclosed dark money,
shows 2014 Wesleyan Media Project report

 Knight Foundation provides $74,800 in new support to
Wesleyan Media Project to increase government transparency

 Interest group involvement in campaign advertising is continuing its upward trend, the Wesleyan Media Project reports today in its first analysis of ad spending in the 2014 midterm election cycle, funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Wesleyan University. Interest groups are responsible for more ad airings, and represent a higher proportion of all ads on the airwaves relative to other players, this year than in 2012, comparing cycle-to-date figures. Moreover, analysis suggests that dark money—spending by groups that are not required to disclose their donors—comprises a majority of the interest group ads on the air.

The full analysis, which looks at ad airings from January 1, 2013, to April 24, 2014, is available on the Wesleyan Media Project’s website. It is the first of six analyses to be issued in the 2014 election cycle, and includes a special survey commissioned by the project on public knowledge about interest groups.

A resource for journalists, policymakers, scholars and voters, the project was established in 2010 with support from Knight Foundation. Since then, it has tracked and analyzed all broadcast advertisements aired on behalf of federal and statewide election candidates in all of the country’s media markets, with the goal of increasing transparency in elections. In 2012, more than 300 news organizations cited the project’s data, frequently quoting analysis from the project’s co-directors.

“Making this important information available to the public in a useful way is a central part of making government more open and transparent,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation. “By tracking this data year by year, the project is establishing a reference point that journalists, scholars and citizens can rely on to trace the root of campaign funding and hold officials more accountable.”

The Wesleyan Media Project is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College, and Travis N. Ridout, associate professor of political science at Washington State University.

Follow the Wesleyan Media Project on Twitter @wesmediaproject. To be added to our email update list, click here.

About Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., is known for the excellence of its academic and co-curricular programs. With more than 2,900 undergraduates and 200 graduate students, Wesleyan is dedicated to providing a liberal arts education characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism. For more, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit

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