Spending by outside groups top $2M in House race

Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a debate with Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a debate with his opponent, congressional candidate Randy Altschuler, at the Riverhead Baptist Church. (Sept. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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Spending by outside interest groups in the congressional race between Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and St. James Republican Randy Altschuler has topped $2 million -- double the total spent by such groups when the candidates first squared off in 2010.

Prosperity First Inc., a new super PAC largely funded by East Setauket hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, on Tuesday purchased $104,868 in ads supporting Altschuler, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Over five weeks, the PAC has poured nearly $800,000 into the 1st Congressional District contest.

Bishop, seeking his sixth term, has benefited from only about 20 percent of expenditures by groups that operate independently of candidate committees. On Tuesday, the Communications Workers of America's Working Voices PAC bought $204,549 in ads to support him. Previously, Bishop's only super PAC support had come from the Democratic House Majority PAC, which has spent $306,485 on ads.

The outside groups have spent $2.26 million on the closely watched contest since early September, according to FEC filings. In 2010, when Bishop edged Altschuler by 593 votes, outside groups spent a total of $1.08 million.

Much of the increase is due to Prosperity First, formed in March. The National Republican Congressional Committee also has spent $383,815 on ads attacking Bishop. Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit founded by Karl Rove, former political consultant to President George W. Bush, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have spent a combined $582,384 to benefit Altschuler.

A Siena Research Institute poll, conducted in early September, had Bishop leading Altschuler by 13 points.

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That was before the largest infusion of attack ads bankrolled by outside interests. Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report, a political newsletter in Washington, D.C., said the GOP will want to see Altschuler's poll numbers climb soon. Otherwise, the groups may move on to other races they deem crucial to retaining power in the House, she said.

"If it's two weeks out, and these ads aren't moving the numbers, I think the Republicans are going to have to make choices as to where their money will be best spent across the country," Taylor said.

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