Big money crops up in small elections in the United States

By:  Andy Sullivan

ARVADA Colorado (Reuters) - Political groups that took advantage of loosened campaign-finance rules spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. This year, they're cropping up in state and local races as well.

Wealthy individuals and interest groups of all stripes are increasingly setting up political committees that can steer unlimited sums to small-dollar contests for state legislature, sheriff and school board.

Four years after the Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot restrict spending by political groups not directly affiliated with candidates, the "Super PACs" and other spending committees that sprung up in the wake of that decision are becoming a fixture in races farther down on ballot sheets, where their money can have a greater impact.

In some cases, they are looking to bypass a gridlocked Washington that likely will not be more productive after the Nov. 4 congressional elections. In other cases, local operators are adopting tactics first developed at the national level.

In Cumberland County, Maine, a property developer spent $100,000 on attack ads this spring in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the county sheriff in a Democratic primary.

In Arkansas, a conservative entrepreneur routed money through a network of committees to help a political neophyte topple a Republican legislator who had worked with Democrats to expand health coverage for the poor.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative network backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has sought to influence judicial contests in North Carolina and school board races in Tennessee and Wisconsin.

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