Super PACs: FEC report sheds light on powerful influence of a few big donors (+video)
A strikingly few wealthy donors were the main 2011 contributors to super PACs, which analysts see as the main force behind a flood of negative campaign ads.
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But a wildcard in the 2012 race is how outside super PACs could tip that balance by giving anti-Obama groups access to unlimited individual and corporate contributions. In GOP presidential primary races to date, spending by outside groups in support of candidates has been decisive, analysts are saying.Skip to next paragraph
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New FEC filings and advertising data confirm what many GOP candidates have been saying since Iowa – that outside groups are dominating the airwaves. Super PACs spent $23.5 million on television ads, which were overwhelmingly negative, while candidates themselves spent $20.7 million.
“In the first presidential election cycle following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC, interest group involvement in the presidential air war has skyrocketed from 3 percent of all ads aired in the 2008 Republican nomination race to nearly half (44 percent) of all airings,” concludes a Jan. 30 report by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks campaign ads.
Super PAC money gave Romney a decisive edge in the ad wars. Pro-Romney independent expenditures, mainly from Restore Our Future, accounted for $16.5 million in negative ads directed against Gingrich, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A battering of negative ads, especially from Restore Our Future, drove down Gingrich poll numbers in the Iowa caucuses. Gingrich’s super PAC fought back with a 27-minute attack savaging Romney’s business experience, which helped Gingrich to a come-from-behind win in South Carolina.
“Negative ads work,” says Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “It’s a lot easier for outside groups to go negative than it is for the candidate.”
In the last two weeks of the GOP Florida primary race, the dueling super PACs spent $8.5 million on negative ads: Winning Our Future spent $2.5 million to attack Romney, and Restore Our Future spent $6.5 million to attack Gingrich, according to data from the FEC the Center for Responsive Politics.
“I spent much of my academic career telling reporters, ‘Relax, this is not the most negative campaign ever,” said Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, in an interview with CNN. “Well, this IS the most negative campaign ever.”
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