'Citizens United' Ruling Helped Unions Win State Elections

November 18, 2013

Coming out of the primaries in last year’s gubernatorial election, New Hampshire Republican Ovide Lamontagne enjoyed a huge cash advantage over Democrat Maggie Hassan.

Polls predicted a tight race for the general election in the Granite State, but Hassan’s expensive primary victory left her with less than $17,000 cash on hand, while Lamontange had more than  $250,000.

That advantage might have proved decisive in previous elections — but in a race where outside groups outspent the candidates and flooded the state with millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads, it was largely meaningless.

By Election Day, organizations backed by unions and the largely union-funded Democratic Governors Association (DGA) would spend roughly $7 million on the New Hampshire election. National unions spent another $2 million directly. Most of the cash went toward ads bashing Republican Lamontagne, who supported “right to work” legislation aimed at curbing union power, the same legislation that outgoing Democratic Gov. John Lynch had vetoed.

“Hassan was propped up and carried to victory by the outside groups,” says Fergus Cullen, a former head of the state Republican Party who helped raise funds for Lamontagne.

Since the Supreme Court loosened rules on political spending in 2010, the Republican Party, boosted by corporate and billionaire backers, has been painted as the biggest beneficiary. But in New Hampshire and a handful of other states in 2012, Democrats flipped the script.

In New Hampshire, groups backing Democrats reported spending nearly $1 million more than their Republican counterparts.

Nonprofits, super PACs, and other non-candidate groups reported spending at least $209 million to influence elections in 38 states, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP) and state elections offices.

Pro-Democratic groups, many associated with unions, outspent their Republican counterparts by more than $8 million, according to the Center’s analysis.