Where Did All the Money Come From in the Alabama Senate Race? - Pacific Standard

Where Did All the Money Come From in the Alabama Senate Race?

Super PACs dedicated to the country's top national politicians are spending the most in the Alabama special election.
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Democratic Senatorial candidate Doug Jones (right) and his wife Louise Jones greet supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 11th, 2017.

Democratic Senatorial candidate Doug Jones (right) and his wife Louise Jones greet supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 11th, 2017.

Super PACs that have supported the country's top national politicians are the top spenders in the hotly contested race for Alabama's open Senate seat, a new analysis finds.

Alabama's special Senate election has been in the national spotlight since allegations emerged claiming that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee, tried to date teenage girls when he was in his 30s, and had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old. Moore has denied the allegations.

The news prompted upheaval in the Republican Party as many prominent GOP politicians debated whether to support Moore's candidacy. The scandal also created a unique opening for Democratic hopeful Doug Jones, a former United States attorney. In a state where no Democrat has won governorship or a Senate seat in two decades, the race is projected to be close.

Roy Moore listens to a question during a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 16th, 2017.

Roy Moore listens to a question during a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 16th, 2017.

MapLight, a California-based non-profit that tracks campaign spending using public data sources, ran the numbers to see who's contributed to this unusual election. Big-name Democrats have spent handsomely to boost Jones' chances, MapLight finds, while major Republican donors seem split about whether to give to Moore. Below, some highlights, as of December 8th:

  • Jones has been able to raise twice as much as Moore, receiving $11.8 million to Moore's $5 million.
  • Jones' biggest donor is a mysterious super PAC called Highway 31, which was created November 6th. MapLight initially reported that Highway 31 had given $3.47 million to Jones, but Politico later found that number to be more than $4.1 million, including spending on ads. Highway 31 is legally structured in such a way that it doesn't have to disclose its donors until after the election, according to the Daily Beast. Nevertheless, on the eve of the election, Politico reporter Gabriel Debenedetti was able to identify Highway 31 as "a joint project of two of the largest national Democratic super PACs—Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action." Those PACs supported Barack Obama's bid for the presidency in 2012 and Hillary Clinton's bid in 2016. In Alabama, a state that Clinton lost to Trump by 28 points, Jones and his supporters have tried to maintain their distance from the party's big organizations, Politico reports. Debenedetti's work will have undermined Jones' efforts.
  • Moore's biggest donor is America First Action, a PAC that champions President Donald Trump's policies. (Trump himself has vocally supported Moore.) America First Action spent more than $1 million, MapLight reports. The group garnered some attention this week by posting a video in which a 12-year-old girl interviews Moore.

Many of the usual major Republican spending groups—including the Senate Leadership Fund, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Chamber of Commerce—are missing among Moore's donors, MapLight notes. But some prominent conservative groups and individuals, including the Alabama Republican Party and Steven Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, have donated to Moore.

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