Brand new data on super-PAC spending is out courtesy of the Wesleyan Media Project, and conservative groups are still considerably outspending liberal organizations, despite an overall ad-buy advantage from the Obama campaign over the Romney campaign as the Tsunami of Sleaze rolls through our airwaves on to Election Day 2012.
TV ads by nondisclosing dark-money 501(c)(4)s are keeping up with super-PAC spending in these final weeks, with the combined totals almost matching Team Mitt’s overall ad spending.
And in several key swing-state Senate races, independent groups account for more than 50 percent of all the advertising money spent.
For example, in September the Karl Rove–backed super PAC American Crossroads and its 501(c)(4) arm Crossroads GPS spent almost $15 million in ads, compared with $19 million spent by the Romney campaign and dwarfing the $2 million spent by the Romney-affiliated super PAC Restore Our Future, which had previously raised more money than any other group this cycle.
Interestingly, Restore Our Future went from Aug. 23 to Sept. 21 without spending any money on ads, according to OpenSecrets.org. It could be argued that Karl Rove and his Crossroads Empire are basically propping up the Romney campaign at this point, where onetime Crossroads cofounder Ed Gillespie is a senior adviser.
“August was the first month in which liberal super PACs outraised conservative super PACs,” said Robert Maguire from the Center for Responsive Politics. “Coincidentally, August also saw the beginning of a nearly monthlong dry spell in ad buys on the part of Restore Our Future. Whether the two are related, no one will know until mid-October, when September's donor totals are filed with the FEC.”
In the general-election season overall, Crossroads GPS has outspent American Crossroads in ads by a more than 2–1 margin, $41.4 million to $17.8 million. Since GPS is nominally the “social purpose” and nonprofit arm of Rove’s empire, it doesn’t have to reveal its donors—meaning we won’t ever know who gave the $41.4 million to produce and air those dark-money ads.
The impact of super PACs on swing-state Senate races is particularly pronounced. In Ohio and Virginia, independent groups account for 53 percent and 52 percent of total ad spending, respectively. In Nevada, Florida, Wisconsin, and Indiana, independent groups account for far more than 40 percent of all spending. And Crossroads GPS is outspending its affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, by an almost 5–1 margin in Senate races.
Interestingly, the DNC has decided to sit out the ad wars this cycle, leading Wesleyan Media project to surmise that they are instead devoting their dollars to get-out-the-vote efforts. The once-robust Romney campaign and Restore Our Future super PAC is either choosing to hoard their cash for an intense October ad push or they have bled more money on the road to the Election Day than previously estimated, in a possible sign of postconvention fundraising troubles.
Not surprisingly, this unprecedented onslaught of super-PAC spending has led to the most negative election ad cycle in American history. “Just 14 percent of presidential ads so far this year have been positive, down from 54 percent in 2000, 35 percent in 2004, and 32 percent in 2008,” states the Wesleyan Media Project. “Fully 62 percent of ads this year have been pure attacks.”
Moreover, negativity has increased since the Tea Party midterm election of 2010. “Comparing only congressional races, ads by outside groups opposing candidates has increased from 69 percent in 2010 to 77 percent in 2012,” says Maguire. “And it’s worth noting that we’re likely to see a majority of the outside spending for the entire cycle come in the next four weeks, so the 2012 total will probably increase.”
So the super-PAC sludge swamps swing states and Senate races—while a select group of political consultants get super-rich off all the negativity, win or lose. Remember, it’s not just democracy; it’s big business. If you want to find out what’s really going on beneath Campaign 2012, the old adage is still true: follow the money.