Outside political groups (i.e. organizations not directly affiliated with candidates) have come under a lot of scrutiny during this mid-term election cycle. That's because they are spending millions fo dollars to sway voters in state and federal races. The watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics says outside groups spent nearly $463 million so far. And a good deal of money is flowing into California. More than $45 million has been spent in the state by political committees formed by special interest groups.
Much of this funding pays for television advertising that expressly call for the election or defeat of specific candidates. In addition to posting data on campaign spending (broken out by type of group, ideology, race, candidate and other factors), the CRP web site now features video recordings of ads created by outside groups -- both liberal and conservative. Browsing these commercials provides a quick education into the aims and strategies of such organizations this year.
The majority of TV commercials posted by CRP are directed against candidates and generally play on the fears and outrage of average people. Typical are the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees -- the top two groups making outside expenditures. Also high on that list are the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads (the Karl Rove group) and the liberal Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
To get a taste of how outside advertising plays in California, check out the ads directed against Senate candidates Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer produced by Emily's List and the U.S. Chamber respectively.