Nearly $42 million has been spent, with more than half the money going to three districts. In some cases, the amount exceeds that raised by candidates.

By Jean Merl and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times
October 26, 2012

But a little-known group called America Shining recently started spending money — more than $610,000 so far — to oppose Royce and help Chen, drawing attention to the race in ways the Chen campaign couldn’t afford. The outlay by the 3-month-old America Shining, whose only donor is Chen’s brother Shaw, is a fraction of the nearly $42 million in independent spending poured into unusually competitive California congressional races this year.

More than half that amount has gone to just three of the state’s 53 districts.

In some cases, such as Chen’s, the independent spending has nearly matched or exceeded what the candidates have raised. The growth of such spending was largely enabled by federal court decisions that eased restrictions on unlimited donations for or against candidates — as long as the giving is not coordinated with the campaigns. The new rules have changed the political landscape across the nation.

The influence of independent spending is especially strong in California, experts say. The nation’s biggest congressional delegation has 10 competitive races this year that will figure strongly in the parties’ battle for control of the House, in part because of new political maps that resulted in fewer sure bets for either party.

“We’ve got an arms race going on, and clearly there is a lot at stake,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. She added that her organization is especially concerned about aspects of the rules that in some cases allow the identity of contributors to remain hidden.

The Sacramento-area battle between Republican Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) and Democrat Ami Bera is among the House races that have drawn the most outside money: more than $7.3 million. Two other California contests have each attracted more than $6.9 million in external spending.

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