Political advertisers are a mystery in Kansas more than in any other state.
Kansas has seen the greatest number of ads for state-level political office, such as lieutenant governors and state treasurers, from groups that do not disclose their donors. In fact, secretive groups account for more than half of the spending in that state's competitive race for governor, and voters likely will never know who is picking up the tab — the biggest paid for by anonymous patrons.
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Kansas, however, is hardly alone.
More than $9 million in ads have come from such anonymous groups in races for governor and state legislatures in 16 states, according to an analysis released Thursday by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity. And the bulk of the spending for next month's elections is yet to come.
Kansas has seen more than a third of these ads from these groups. In Kansas, total spending stands at $6.3 million, as of Tuesday. Some $3.3 million of it comes from groups with benign names such as the Alliance for Freedom, the Kansas Values Institute and Roadmap Solutions.
The rise of such groups in down-ballot races suggests that deep-pocketed groups who have spent lavishly on House and Senate races are now turning to races with less prominence. For instance, the group backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, Americans for Prosperity, has started spending in the race for Kansas governor.
While secretive groups play an outsized role in Kansas, other states have seen far more total spending.
Candidates for state-level office in Florida have seen almost $61 million in television ads spent to help — or hurt — them. Of that, $55 million is for the governor's race, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott is seeking a second term.
Texas follows at more than $50 million in total spending. Just over $21 million has been spent on the governor's race, about $13 million on the race for lieutenant governor and almost $11 million on the contest for attorney general.
Voters in Illinois have seen more than $46 million in advertising for state-level candidates. Of that, $44 million has been in the governor's race.
The nation's top state-level spender remains the Republican Governors Association and its affiliates, which have spent almost $18 million on ads in 16 states. A group backing Scott's re-election bid in Florida has spent almost $11 million on ads on that one race, and the Democratic Governors Association has spent almost $11 million on ads in five states.
In all, television advertising for state-level candidates has reached $430 million — surpassing the $283 million that has been spent on television ads looking to shape the results of U.S. Senate races.
At the state level, outside groups make up about a fifth of the dollars. Some 116 independent groups have spent $86 million in 34 states.
Four years ago, such groups accounted for about 12 percent of the state-level spending in the primary season, which ran through September.
Still, these outside groups don't have the same footprint in state races as they do in U.S. Senate campaigns. For those federal offices, outside groups make up about 44 percent of all television advertising.
The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country's 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot between Jan. 1, 2013, and Tuesday.
These figures only represent part of the money spent on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, as well as television ads on local cable systems or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads could be significantly higher.
Campaign finance data rarely, if ever, present a hard total for all spending. A total like that usually is not available for months or sometimes years after the fact, and still is likely to miss some money.
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