Driven by spending from outside groups, the cost of the 2012 U.S. election will exceed $6 billion, $700 million more than four years ago, the Center for Responsive Politics estimated.
Organizations such as Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and super-political action committees including Restore Our Future and Priorities USA Action will spend close to $1 billion, according to the center, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign donations and spending. That is more than triple the $276 million outside groups spent in 2008.
Such expenditures, much of them by groups that keep their donors hidden, have increased following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed restrictions on independent corporate and union spending. About two-thirds of the outside spending has gone to benefit Republican candidates.
“In the new campaign finance landscape post-Citizens United, we’re seeing historic spending levels by outside groups dominated by a small number of individuals and organizations making exceptional contributions,” said Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director.
The figures include spending for the presidential and congressional races and the national party conventions. They could be greater because many outside groups don’t disclose their spending.
Spending by super-PACs Restore Our Future and American Crossroads have helped Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney close his fundraising gap with President Barack Obama. Those two groups have spent $217 million, $160 million more than the $57 million by the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action. Obama’s campaign committee has outspent Romney’s by $193 million, $553 million to $360 million.
The super-PACs can take in unlimited donations. Casino executive Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have given $20 million to Restore Our Future and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry has contributed $10 million. American Crossroads has received $17.5 million from Harold Simmons, chairman of Dallas-based Contran Corp. Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc., donated $3 million to Priorities.
Both candidates have also relied on bundlers, those who gather up donations from other individuals and send them to the campaign. Obama has identified 758 bundlers who have raised at least $50,000; Romney, breaking with tradition, has declined to release his top fundraisers except for registered lobbyists he must identify by law.
“There is an expectation that the rewards will go beyond mere gratitude,” Krumholz said. “There is ample evidence that there are numerous high rollers who will come calling.”