02/01/2013 04:36 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2013

Democratic super PACs start year with cash advantage

By Michael Beckel and Dave Levinthal

Update (Feb. 1, 4:30 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comment from Brad Martin of Fair Share Action.

Prominent super PACs are already preparing for their next act -- the 2014 midterm elections -- with Democratic-aligned groups leading the way.

Of the five super PACs with the most money in the bank through the end of 2012, all support Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance reports released Thursday.

The United Auto Workers' super PAC, launched last September, reported the most money in the bank at $8.9 million. The group spent almost $2.7 million ahead of Election Day.

Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC that backed the re-election of President Barack Obama, ranks second, ending the year with $3.7 million in the bank after spending $65 million on ads that pounded Obama's GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

Rounding out the top five: the super PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which reported $3.2 million on hand; Fair Share Action, which reported $1.8 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that specializes in opposition research, which reported $1.3 million.

Such cash illustrates how Democratic forces have become full-fledged participants on the post-Citizens United campaign battlefield, shedding ideological concerns about unbridled political spending to better compete with Republican foes.

Meanwhile, Republican super PACs are not expected to sit idly by.

Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman for Republican-aligned super PAC American Crossroads, said the group is "planning a vigorous effort to elect conservative candidates in the Senate and hold control of the House."

The GOP juggernaut, co-founded by strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, raised more than $117 million during the 2012 election cycle, second only to Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

Crossroads headed into 2013 with $1.2 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

One of the most visible super Democratic super PACs at the start of the New Year has been House Majority PAC -- which ended 2012 with $155,000 in the bank. This week the group released a promotional video featuring seven Democratic members of Congress and announced plans to target 10 GOP lawmakers it views as vulnerable.

Spokesman Andy Stone said the super PAC is focused on "crunching the numbers" to help propel Democrats back into power.

Among House Majority PAC's targets are Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who organized the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and was re-elected last year with a surprisingly narrow margin of victory, and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.

More ideologically driven super PACs are also preparing for new electoral battles.

Club for Growth Action, the super PAC arm of the conservative Club for Growth, is redoubling its efforts to "elect fiscally conservative candidates to office in 2014," spokesman Barney Keller said.

And Jeff Gohringer, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, said the group's super PAC would be put to work this cycle to "keep electing environmental champions and defeating climate deniers."

It is buoyed by its success at the ballot box. According to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, the League of Conservation Voters super PAC spent money to aid 15 Democratic candidates last year, 12 of whom won on Election Day.

Continue this story and read more investigations at The Center for Public Integrity