TAMPA -- To critics, third-party groups entering the political sphere are akin to dark, secretive organizations that promote mass campaigns of disinformation and negative advertising to woefully influence voters.
But if the Sunshine State is any example, these groups won't be so influential after all
In fact, most of the outside spending in Florida comes from trade associations and unions that have lined up to oppose Republican candidates and support those of the Democratic Party, who are often portrayed as more sympathetic to the union cause.
An examination by Florida Watchdog of outside spending in congressional campaigns in the state reveals that the largest individual expenditures have been spent by groups tied to Democrats, both for party candidate and against their Republican opponent.
The numbers are provided from both the FEC and the Center for Repsonsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to tracking money in politics.
In the heated race for the U.S. House seat in District 18, for example, Democratic businessman Patrick Murphy already has raised $54,643 thanks to the American Sunrise Political Action Committee, created to recruit progressive candidates with "practical private-sector experience," according to its website.
Murphy so far is the only benefactor of American Sunrise's spending.
In 2012, the Democratic House Majority PAC and the Democratic National Congressional Committee (DNCC) have spent $37,050 to advertise against Murphy's Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Allen West, currently of the 22nd District who is seeking his fortunes in the newly drawn District 19.
Redistricting will force several candidates out of their current districts and into news ones.
West's outside spenders, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the Patriot Super PAC and the West Representation PAC, have spent $12,354 supporting the congressman, nearly $80,000 less than the money spent against him and for his opponent.
In the 26th District, the DNCC has spent $12,636 to unseat GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan, currently of District 13, as well as $9,835 against fellow GOP Rep. Steve Southerland of District 2.
"Many committees and organizations will now use a lot of resources in promoting negative advertising against a certain candidate," said Peter Quist of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a Montana-based group tracking state-based political expenditures.
His organization has seen that effect in local races throughout Florida and other states, perhaps receiving the spillover effect from the costly ongoing presidential campaign between President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
Throughout the course of the GOP presidential primary and the current race between Obama and Romney, outside spending has topped over $18 million in the state of Florida alone, mostly against former candidate Newt Gingrich.
The biggest spender has been the Super PAC supporting former Mass. Gov. Romney, Restore Our Future, Inc.
Tallied together, outside opposition groups have spent the most amount of money against GOP House candidates, nearly $72,000, while outside spending against Democratic candidates only took place in the district of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz--and for only $321 by The New Generation PAC.
These groups "are raising and spending millions of dollars to accomplish their major purpose of influencing federal elections, while hiding their funding sources," said Cecil in his complaint to the FEC, against groups such as Karl Rove's Crossroads, Americans For Prosperity and 60 Plus, who have lent funds to opposing some of his candidates.
Neither Cecil or anyone from the DSCC returned calls to Florida Watchdog.
In the U.S. Senate race, the only statewide office on the ballot in 2012, the numbers are entirely similar.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, of District 14, the all-but-inevitable GOP candidate, has outside friends who have spent $11,668 on his campaign to oust incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Miami.
Outside spenders have committed $12,234 to advertise against Mack while GOP-affiliated groups have spent $14,280 against Nelson.
Yael Ossowoski covers Florida politics and government for Florida Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Politics.