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Here's the latest drumbeat in one of the biggest political stories of the year, referenced here often in the past couple weeks -- the growing influence of third-party spending.

Senate Finance committee chairman Max Baucus has asked for an IRS investigation of the groups, which are outspending both parties combined, Bloomberg reports:

Republican-leaning outside groups, under fire from Democrats, spent more to sway the Nov. 2 congressional elections during September’s first four weeks than the two political parties combined, federal records show.

The groups -- including Crossroads GPS, advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent more than $33 million, mainly on advertising. That compares with less than $20 million spent by the Republican and Democratic congressional fundraising committees.

Many of the organizations are registered as nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors, spurring protests from Democrats including President Barack Obama and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who yesterday asked the Internal Revenue Service to probe whether the groups are violating tax laws.

Baucus’s call for an investigation is a “warning shot” designed to curtail groups that “may currently be acting as pass-through entities for campaign cash,” said Rogan Kersh, a public policy professor at New York University in New York City. “It’s unlikely that the IRS will produce a detailed report before the elections.”

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