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Mauled by Ads, Incumbents Look to Declaw Outside Groups
An expansive onslaught of negative political advertisements in Congressional races has left many incumbents, including some Republicans long opposed to restrictions on campaign spending, concluding that legislative measures may be in order to curtail the power of the outside groups behind most of the attacks.

While Democrats have long denounced a 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the gates on unlimited spending on advertisements, some Republicans are now growing more disenchanted with the system that allowed the barrage of ads, often by shadowy groups, and the effects it has had on what they see as a sullen and disenchanted electorate.

“Once we get back, those that do get re-elected will all be commiserating about all the negative ads,” said Representative Joe Heck of Nevada, a Republican who faced ads accusing him of voting against a rape crisis center and against money to help victims of domestic violence, among other things. “And that will start the groundswell for reform.”

The 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was expected to be an unalloyed advantage to Republicans, who have a deeper bench of rich individuals and corporations willing to finance candidates.

The decision has appeared to benefit Republicans over all this election cycle, as Republican money has poured into the presidential contest. Democrats say their third-party allies have also been outspent, by about two to one, in Senate campaigns. But the impact of Citizens United has come with complications, with some Republican incumbents in the House at a disadvantage.

Earlier this month, before Republicans surged ahead with an additional $25 million, the total spending and reservations for ad time in the House campaigns has been dead even at $89 million, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Conservative donors were confident that the House Republican majority was secure and sent their money elsewhere. Democratic donors, including unions and environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters, have been more strategic, concentrating their fire on a handful of vulnerable House Republicans.

Mr. Lungren said the attacks on him began just months after the 2010 election, with radio advertisements and automated phone calls. They have accelerated into an onslaught of television commercials in what has become the most expensive House race in the country....

He said the 2012 experience could be transformative for other Republicans who have spent the last six months enduring the grim piano music and disconsolate faces of “voters” in negative ad after ad, sometimes against them, sometimes on their behalf but always without their signoff. “We had to see how this worked out for a cycle,” he said.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who runs the group charged with electing Republicans to the Senate, has said he thinks it would be worthwhile to examine the campaign-finance system after the election.

August 2017

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