Unions, political action committees and other special interests shelled out nearly $98 million in independent expenditures to influence the presidential election, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of campaign finance reports through Nov. 4. While there was no "Swift Boat" ad that defined this year's White House race, these special interest groups created a strong presence by spending almost twice as much as the national party committees on independent ads, canvassing and other campaign activities.
The groups overwhelmingly favored Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, spending $48 million in his behalf since June, while Republican nominee John McCain was favored with $28 million over the same period. Another $22 million was spent during the primaries on behalf of all presidential contenders. Leading the was the Service Employees International Union. It spent more than $28 million, a lot of it going to fund multi-lingual, 30-second spots promoting Obama and railing against McCain's views on economic issues.
Even though outside groups overshadowed the national parties in the race for the White House, they played a much smaller role in congressional races, where the party organizations dominated on independent spending. Still, interest groups targeting $41 million at 258 House and Senate races. In addition to the service employees union, the groups that rung up the most in independent expenditures included:
- National Rifle Association of America, $6,890,820
- The National Republican Trust PAC, $6,592,925
- MoveOn.Org, $5,369,254
- United Auto Workers, $4,860,571
- National Right To Life Political Action Committee, $4,658,122
- American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees, $4,176,346
- 1199 Service Employees International Union, $3,910,471
- Let Freedom Ring Inc., $3,257,939
- American Federation of Teachers, $2,982,565