Since the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision in 2010, there’s been more and more participation in electoral politics by groups not coordinated with campaigns or parties.
In Iowa, what’s unusual this year is — in addition to a blizzard of TV ads — outside groups are out knocking on doors.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, roughly $50 Million dollars of outside money has been spent on Iowa’s close open Senate race. A fraction of that money was spent to put Denise Bubeck on this Des Moines voter’s doorstep.
“I’m letting people know the policies of Bruce Braley that we don’t agree with. You know, the healthcare law,” Denise Bubeck says to a voter on his doorstep.
Bubeck won’t tell you who to vote for, but it’s evident she’s not a fan of the Democrat in the race: Four-term Congressman Bruce Braley.
“The bailouts, the stimulus package, the spending. And so we’ve been encouraging people to vote,” says Bubeck.
“Oh, I hear ya. I’m on the same page,” the voter responds.
Bubeck never mentions Iowa state senator Joni Ernst, the Republican in the race. That’s because Bubeck is a paid staffer with Americans for Prosperity. It’s a social welfare organization that’s limited in how it can engage in electoral politics. It also doesn’t have to reveal its donors. AFP was started by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, a conservative group often demonized by Democrats.
“It’s a lot easier to raise some money and throw some ads on TV,” says Drew Klein, the deputy director of AFP’s Iowa chapter. He says knocking doors is a more effective way to connect with voters.
“Looking back at 2008 and 2012, that’s really where the left dominated both the size of the presence and the effectiveness of their presence,” Klein says. “I think it has been kind of a learning curve for us.”
Both liberal and conservative groups are pounding Iowa pavement. The increasing participation by outside groups has become an issue in itself in this race that could determine what party holds the majority in the senate. That’s a problem, says Drake Political Science Professor Dennis Goldford.
“So the campaigns become not about issues that matter to voters,” Goldford says. “The campaigns become campaigns about campaigns themselves.”
Goldford says outside money is nothing new in Iowa; it’s just the unprecedented volume and intensity in this midterm. He says with all this outside money sloshing around, Iowans shouldn’t be surprised if it sticks around long after November 4th. After all, once the polls of the midterm close, it’s 2016 Iowa caucus season.