This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.
Some support Republican Mark Sanford. Far more back Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
But the political groups that have together poured $1.1 million -- 85 percent benefiting Colbert Busch -- into South Carolina's special congressional election are effectively uniform in where they're from: Washington, D.C.
Only one of the 10 political action committees, super PACs, nonprofit groups or party committees that have urged voters to support or oppose Colbert Busch or Sanford is based in the Palmetto State, and it's spent a pittance -- just $20,000, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal spending disclosures through Monday indicates.
And of the more than 20 contractors and vendors these political powerhouses hired to produce television attack ads, print flyers or place telemarketing calls, all but one are located outside South Carolina. The others hail from seemingly everywhere but: North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio and California, among others, according to federal records.
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So as many South Carolina voters hit the polls today to elect their newest 1st District congressional representative, they do so amid a torrent of out-of-state influence that's increasingly commonplace following the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which eliminated many restrictions on how outside political groups could raise and spend money to advocate for or against candidates.
Today's dead-heat special election, which features the state's philandering former governor against comedian Stephen Colbert's comparatively unknown sister, could foreshadow outside groups' activities in regularly scheduled midterms in 2014.
Congressional races in even the sleepiest states or districts could attract unprecedented attention from moneyed national entities that have little inherent connection to locals and primarily care about picking up (or defending) a critical seat for their party or pressing a particular special interest, which in other contests might include guns or energy and environmental issues.
The D.C.-based Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has so far spent the most during the South Carolina special election, hitting Sanford with more than $458,000 in negative advertising. It has used Great American Media of D.C. and Adelstein | Liston LLC of Illinois to produce its ads, disclosures show.
Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC, meanwhile, has spent nearly $426,000 on broadcasts, direct mail and online ads denouncing Sanford. The super PAC, which is based in D.C., has exclusively used D.C.-based firms to do so: Waterfront Strategies, The Strategy Group, Ralston Lapp Media and Rising Tide Interactive.
Independent Women's Voice, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit group based in the nation's capital, has proved to be Sanford's strongest outside advocate, slamming Colbert Busch with more than $145,000 in broadcast ads, flyers and telephone calls, according to federal records.
Its contractors include Victory Media Group of Illinois, Antietam Communications of Georgia, Creative Associates LLC of Wisconsin and Kasey Kirby of Washington, D.C. And it's particularly significant since the National Republican Congressional Committee, the DCCC's GOP counterpart, decided against spending money in the race.
Other D.C.-based outside groups that have made independent expenditures leading up to today's vote include FreedomWorks Inc. (pro-Sanford), Environmental Majority (pro-Colbert Busch), National Right to Life Political Action Committee (pro-Sanford), National Right to Life Victory Fund (pro-Sanford) and the Votevets.org Action Fund (pro-Colbert Busch).
The Columbia, S.C.-based South Forward IE PAC is the lone outside group not from D.C. to advertise for or against the candidates, spending about $20,200 on television and online ads, as well as door hangers, to oppose Sanford's candidacy. Its contractors are all from outside of South Carolina.
The Amalgamated Transit Union used a South Carolina firm -- Harbinger Publications -- to produce its $5,000 worth of pro-Colbert Busch flyers, but the union itself is based in D.C.
It's possible that outside political groups could spend close to, or as much as the candidates themselves during the race.
As of April 17, Colbert Busch had spent about $942,000, federal records show, while Sanford had spent about $626,000, including money he spent winning the GOP nomination. But Sanford entered the home stretch with slightly more cash on hand (more than $284,000) than Colbert Busch (more than $254,000).
The candidates' spending figures will assuredly have increased by the time post-election disclosures are filed with the Federal Election Commission. Unlike outside political expenditures, which are filed in real time, candidates' expenditures are not.