Conservative Dark Money Helps Georgia Congressional Candidate Narrow Spending Gap With Ossoff

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins | June 15, 2017

Republicans are closing the fundraising gap in a Georgia congressional special election with millions in outside spending, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee, has outspent his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, by a 7-to-1 margin. Ossoff reported spending $22.5 million; Handel has only spent $3.2 million.

Independent expenditure organizations, however, have spent more than twice the combined amount for both candidates. The influx has turned the race to replace former Rep. Tom Price -- now head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- into the most expensive House contest in U.S. history, with a price tag that's topped $55 million and is still rising.

A MapLight analysis found outside sources have added $8.2 million to Ossoff's effort. GOP independent groups have countered with $18.5 million in spending to support Handel, narrowing the gap between the two candidates to $9 million.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC, was the biggest outside spender, dropping $7.5 million to support Handel. The fund is closely linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan and is dedicated to keeping a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Since March, the fund has received $5 million from American Action Network, a dark money organization that has been one of the top spenders in federal elections.

The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), spent an additional $6.7 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made $5.4 million in independent expenditures supporting Ossoff.

Roughly one-fifth of independent expenditures in the race have been paid for by dark money organizations, political nonprofits that do not have to reveal their donors. America First Policies, a nonprofit started by Trump advisors, was the top-spending dark money organization, dispensing $1.3 million to support Handel. Ending Spending, a nonprofit started by Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, also spent $1.3 million on Handel. During the 2016 election cycle, the 45 Committee -- linked to Ricketts’ son --  was the third highest-spending dark money organization. The committee has spent $ $371,852 in the Georgia race. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the second-highest-spending dark money organization in 2016, has spent more than $1 million on the race.

The highest-spending liberal nonprofit was Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which spent $830,686. The fund, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, does not reveal its donors.

There is also a marked difference in the sizes of donations given to the candidates. More than $15 million of the $23 million Ossoff has raised has come from small, unitemized donations of $200 or less. Meanwhile, small donations made up only $1.6 million of the $4.3 million raised by Handel.

The election will be June 20. An Atlanta Journal Constitution poll released Friday gave Ossoff a seven-point lead.


MapLight analysis of data on independent expenditures affecting Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District in 2017, as available from the Federal Election Commission as of June 13, 2017. Expenditures opposing one of the two candidates in the special election are assumed to support the opposing candidate.