By the time the 2012 presidential elections are over Super PACs and nonprofits will have spent nearly $850 million. Not surprisingly, Republicans, especially GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have been the overwhelming beneficiaries of this flood of cash.
According to a joint analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity, an estimated $577 million, or roughly 69 percent, was spent by conservative groups. That’s compared with $237 million spent by liberal groups, or about 28 percent, with the remainder expended by other organizations.
Most of that spending went to the presidential race with Romney receiving an astonishing $350 million of the more than $450 million dedicated to the presidential election. The fundraising tally for the individual candidates though is quite different. The Obama campaign raised more than $632 million in the 2012 presidential election, 62 percent more than the $389 million raised by Romney.
For some context, in 2010, during their first year of existence, all super PACs combined raised just $85 million.
Now the top 149 individual super PAC donors — each of whom has contributed at least $500,000 — are responsible for $290 million of funds raised. And 858 individuals who contributed at least $50,000 to super PACs accounted for nearly 60 percent of all money the groups collected in the 2012 election. For even more context, consider the fact that the median household income in 2011, by way of comparison, was $50,054, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
What does this all mean? For starters, presidential politics is obscenely expensive, which means candidates are going to have to be savvy about how they raise and spend all their cash. In the case of Republicans these numbers suggest a dramatic leap into the darkness of Super PAC funding and away from more traditional campaign financing. And we see it playing out in campaigns all across the country with over-the-topic misleading issue ads in every medium imaginable.
Conservatives are praising the rise of the Super PAC, calling it a great equalizer in electoral politics. Seriously. From OpenSecrets:
The emergence of super PACs has been heralded by some, such as Republican lawyer Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who co-founded the conservative Center for Competitive Politics.
“[Super PACs] have helped to level the playing field between Romney and Obama, whereas otherwise Obama’s spending advantage would have been substantial,” said Smith. “And in some cases they have raised issues that concern voters that the candidates have chosen to avoid.”
It also means every electoral victory Republicans squeeze from this strategy of leading campaign messaging with dark money issue ads will only enable more. Absent meaningful campaign finance reform that deals with the flood of unaccountable and misleading political speech our only hope of keeping our democracy out of the permanent control of our corporations is to vote against those candidates who most benefit from those ads.
Photo from DonkeyHotey via flickr.