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Outside spending in Senate race tops $1.25 million

Outside spending in the upcoming Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election has topped $1.25 million, with the greatest amount of funding going to Democratic candidate Edward Markey.

The League of Conservation Voters, a national advocacy group, has topped out the spending pool with $545,000 toward the Markey campaign, according to the government watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation.

Markey will face U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch in the Democratic primary April 30. Lynch’s biggest spender has been the International Association of Firefighters, who have spent more than $85,300 in this election, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Connor Yunitz, a spokesman for Lynch, said only about 6.6 percent of the $1.25 million spent by outside groups in the race has been spent on Lynch’s behalf, with most of that spent by the firefighters to paint a bus.

“The vast majority of outside money in this race has been spent by groups working to defeat Congressman Lynch,” Yunitz said.

Members of the Lynch campaign claim that outside money is minimal, unlike their competition.

“Congressman Lynch is glad that most of his supporters have heeded his calls to keep outside money away from this special election and let the votes decide,” said Yunitz. “Unfortunately, too many groups on the other side have continued to pour money in.”

Members of the Markey campaign declined to comment on outside spending matters.

Liz Bartolomeo, a Sunlight Foundation spokeswoman, said it is important to know how these outside groups make independent expenditures, because they can have a big impact on the election’s outcome.

“Take last year’s GOP presidential race, for example,” she said. “Outside groups were one of the factors for prolonging the primary season, with Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum spending millions of dollars to keep them in the running. Four House candidates saw their chances of winning increase after receiving a significant boost from outside nonprofits and Super PACs attacking their opponents or praising them.”

Boston University economics professor Randall Ellis said outside spending is a significant concern, particularly when the sponsors are unknown, but he did not think Massachusetts’s residents would be upset that certain organizations were spending great amounts of money to support candidates.

“$1.25 million in a state with 6.6 million residents is only 19 cents per resident. This is not much for anyone to get worried about,” he said.

Ellis said some economic studies suggest spending on political elections does not particularly affect the outcome of close races.

“Much of political spending is to curry favor by candidates so that after the election they will vote the way the supporter wishes,” he said. “Some firms give money to both sides of the race, for instance. Buying influence from senators is a more serious problem in the U.S. than influencing election results themselves.”

Bartolomeo said transparency should be encouraged with campaign funding.

“These political groups can pour in hundred of thousands, even millions of dollar before election day,” she said. “We should be able to know not only how political groups are spending money in real time, but also who gives money to them in the same fast reporting online.”

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