(WOMENSENEWS)--The Supreme Court's January decision on campaign financing has helped make this the most expensive midterm election in history, with $3 billion spent, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that tracks election spending.
Since corporations, unions and individuals now enjoy a First Amendment right to anonymous and unlimited campaign financing, it's hard to know who's spending what money on which races.
But the nail-biting race in California between Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is trying to defend her seat against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, the billionaire anti-choice former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is attracting some of the biggest money.
From Sept. 1 through Oct. 10, business groups and conservative organizations spent more than $4 million on round-the-clock TV ads and mailings attacking Boxer's support on everything from the federal stimulus program to environmental restrictions on oil companies.
Outside groups have spent about $121,000 helping Boxer attack her opponents, according to The Associated Press.
During the entire campaign, The Washington Post estimates that the Chamber of Commerce has spent $4,639,118 on TV ads attacking Boxer's economic policies. It spent $1,361,648 during the crucial week of Oct. 17 through 24, a time when undecided voters traditionally pay close attention to campaigns in the home stretch.
Groups on both sides of the abortion issue cannot match the breath and depth of the Chamber of Commerce's sophisticated campaign to reach the 17 million registered voters in California, so they have used their resources to make abortion a "wedge" issue. This strategy could prove decisive, if the outcome rests on the turnout of a few thousand voters who might otherwise stay home.
Pro-Choice Groups Fight Back
The California affiliates of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive services in the U.S., have spent $209,992 and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which lobbies Congress on choice, has spent $53,916 to support Boxer with mailings that emphasize the critical role she has played in sponsoring pro-choice legislation, The Washington Post has reported.
The anti-Boxer one-month spending surge represents more than a third of all the money--nearly $11 million--that the team of presidential candidate George W. Bush spent on the entire state in 2000.
An Oct. 22 Rasmussen Poll of voters who said they are likely to vote found Boxer leading 48 percent to Fiorina's 46 percent. Three percent said they preferred other candidates; 3 percent were undecided.
Emily's List, a fundraising organization that boosts candidates who support abortion rights, took an unusual approach in supporting Boxer. The group aired a TV commercial Oct. 18 accusing Fiorina of laying off tens of thousands of employees and shipping jobs overseas as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
The deluge of fiscally conservative messages is part of a concerted effort by Republican groups to win the votes of men in districts of fiscally liberal Democrats such as Boxer, many of whom are strong pro-choice advocates.
Many Pro-Choice Dems Vulnerable
Other veteran pro-choice Democratic senators also fighting to hold office amid heavy attack-ad funding are Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Patty Murray of Washington.
Many of the pro-choice Democrats in the House who were swept into office on Obama's coattails in 2008 are now also considered vulnerable.
In the 7th Congressional District of Michigan, Rep. Mark Schauer, a one-term pro-choice Democrat, is running a close race against Tim Walberg, an anti-choice Republican. In the 3rd District of Nevada, pro-choice Democrat Rep. Dina Titus, elected in 2008, faces anti-choice Republican Joe Heck.
If Republicans are successful, Congress may pass legislation limiting abortions under the health care overhaul or roll back protections for low-income women, minors and other vulnerable women.
The heavy spending against politicians who are pro-choice is spurring groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America to boost their own campaign funding.
"The 2010 election cycle features some of the most extreme anti-choice candidates in recent memory," said Nancy Keenan, president of the group, when she announced on Oct.19 that the political action committee was giving an additional $70,000 to the general election campaigns of 13 candidates for the House and to Rep. Kendrick Meck, who is running for the Senate in Florida.
So far, she said, NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC has contributed $410,000 to 60 candidates in the House and Senate.
A Marist poll in September found that 48 percent of Republican men across the nation stated that they were very enthusiastic about voting, the most of any group. Only 28 percent of Democratic women said the same. Republican women and Democratic men fell in the middle.
Congress Control at Stake
To regain control of Congress, Republicans must win 10 seats in the Senate and 39 in the House.
Polls indicate men are more likely than women to vote in the Nov. 2 midterm elections and are focused on economic issues.
Although polls showed that 80 percent of Americans were opposed to changing campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 ruling in a case known as "Citizens United" permits corporations and individuals to give money anonymously to tax-exempt, organizations that are not required to reveal their donors for ads and other election-related materials.
The Citizens United decision also removed the ban on ads urging voters to vote for or against a specific candidate within 60 days of a general election. Studies indicate that efforts to influence voters near an election are highly effective: undecided voters support the challenger, unless there is some unforeseen, major event that favors the incumbent.
The Citizens United decision has given business groups a tremendous advantage in courting voters in close races in states such as California, where polls show 3 percent of voters are undecided.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 75 percent of voters across the nation are concerned that outside groups only care about electing or defeating candidates based on their agendas. Moreover, 71 percent said they are worried that candidates who are helped by these groups will be beholden to them.
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Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
For more information:
NARAL Pro-Choice America:
National Right to Life: