527 Groups to Assert Influence in Final Weeks of Campaign, Say Colorado State Political Science Researchers

As Election Day nears, Colorado voters should expect an influx of activity from "527" groups with the aim of affecting the outcomes of competitive elections – and it won’t just be in the typical newspaper, radio and television advertisements, said two Colorado State University political science researchers. Instead, this election year, these groups will likely reach out to voters personally.

Known by the federal tax code section that created them, 527s are organizations that can take an unlimited amount of contributions from donors. These "soft money" groups are required by law to be independent of a political candidate’s campaign and cannot coordinate or communicate with any candidate. These groups can have a notable effect on competitive races because their ample resources and relatively cheap access to polling data allow them to focus those resources on issues that matter in these competitive districts, said Robert Duffy, professor of political science at Colorado State.

"Starting this week and into next week, I would expect to see 527s become much more active, especially in competitive races," Duffy said, noting the impending commencement of early voting in Colorado. "And I expect that this cycle, 527s and other groups will put more into the ground war (mailers, phone calls and pounding the pavement) as opposed to the air war (radio and television ads)."

Duffy and Kyle Saunders, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science Department at Colorado State, research campaign finance and work with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, which is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The two professors researched the impact of 527 groups in the campaign for Colorado’s 7th Congressional district in 2004; they found limited involvement of 527s two years ago because polls had indicated prior to the race that it was not close.

Duffy also noted the role early voting plays in elections. Because campaigns are able to access databases of voters who have already submitted an absentee ballot (all absentee votes are tabulated on Election Day), campaigns are able to target voters who have yet to cast ballots, allowing for a more targeted message.