Political Animal


January 30, 2012 5:06 PM The Shift to Super-PACS, By the Numbers

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lot of anecdotal and single-state evidence for the vast shift in political ad spending this year from candidates and party committees to Super-PACs and other “issue advocacy groups.” But now there’s a solid body of data (at least on ad buys for broadcast and national cable TV for the 2012 cycle up until now) from the Wesleyan Media Project.

If you are at all interested in this sort of thing (which you should be), follow the link and stare at some of Weslyan’s charts. To cite just a few glaring numbers: the total volume of non-candidate “independent group” ads run from the beginning of 2011 until January 25 of this year jumped 1600% as compared to the same period in the 2008 cycle. The volume of candidate ads dropped by more than 40%. A lot of this change is attributable to one candidate, Mitt Romney, who spent a lot of campaign money early in 2008, and whose Super-PAC, Restore Our Future, is the Clifford the Big Red Dog of 2012 spending, having (again, just through 1/25, which misses the last week of saturation advertising in Florida) shelled out over $8 million for more than 13,000 spots, well over half, by cost and volume, of total GOP Super-PAC spending (even including the sums spent by the now-defunct Perry and Huntsman Super-PACs).

There’s also data on political advertising by groups not affiliated with campaigns, overwhelmingly concentrated in battleground states. Nearly all of it came from the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity ($5.7 million), Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS ($3 million) and the American Petroleum Institute ($1.6 million).

The financial landscape for campaigns is changing before our eyes, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • lou on January 30, 2012 6:08 PM:

    I didn't see Judge Alito at this year's SOTU.

  • CJ on January 30, 2012 6:21 PM:

    The financial landscape for campaigns is changing before our eyes, and itís not a pretty sight.

    I'm still mystified as to why Democratic politicians and candidates don't make federal justices an election issue.

  • jsjiowa on January 30, 2012 6:25 PM:

    The problem is, unless you're paying attention to the attribution statements on the ads (who paid for the ad), you might not know the difference between candidate ads and superPAC ads. I'm a geek who pays attention to that stuff, so these numbers don't seem that surprising (especially after watching the deluge of ads during the Iowa caucuses). But I don't think the average person realizes that "independent" groups are now driving the (mostly negative) messaging. It just seems like a lot of political advertising to anyone trying to watch TV. To solve the problem, however, I think people need to understand the problem better. Not everyone watches Colbert, however!

  • SYSPROG on January 30, 2012 9:01 PM:

    ...and Justice Scalia is just rubbing his hands together and saying 'hey, it's not so bad. Just turn off the TV!'

  • emjayay on January 30, 2012 10:49 PM:


    The Preview function used to work just fine. Then you fixed it, changing it into crap. Anyone at WM actually tried it? It no longer even makes sense.

    [I will pass that along to someone who might actually be able to do something about it. Can we assume you have tried it on different machines and/or browsers? -- Mod]

  • Rich on January 30, 2012 10:51 PM:

    It's not surprising and it's more pronounced on the GOP side. ALEC and tyhe tea party represent the outcome of this. The RNC is basically a shell and this has been sped up by Super PACs. There is a shadow GOP that truly controls everything and that may be why, crazy like Gingrich or animatronic like Romney, the candidates have largely similar platforms.

    Like the hyper partisanship promulgated by the GOP since the Gingrich "revolution", it will take the elite media about 20 years to notice, although if Politico can notice some of this now, perhaps it will only take 10-15 years for the recognition to sink in.

  • emjayay on January 31, 2012 12:29 AM:

    This is a test on Mozilla.

    The preview button gets you a copy of your comment, not previewed, and all the other comments with extra other stuff all over the place. In other words, it's useless. On Explorer and Mozilla. It used to work quite well.

  • Kevin (not the famous one) on January 31, 2012 11:57 AM:

    Citizens United v. FEC has paid off handsomely. Thank you Supreme Court for stacking the decks. Since banking, Real Estate and now political races can be gamed, what could possibly be next?

    nassibi faults

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 31, 2012 12:18 PM:

    ...it's not a pretty sight.

    That is a personal interpretation of yours. From the perspective of the 1/10 of 1%ers, it is a thing of beauty!

    Just accept the joy and reality of money buying public opinion and votes and the election of those who will meet the needs of the job creators who own the country! We may not be able to buy every election, but over time we will buy enough of them that we will have complete control as opposed to our currently having only mostly control.

    While he is only a middle class quarter-billionaire, Mitt Romney has the traits necessary to move our country forward to meet the needs of the upper classes. Mitt has displayed sufficient empathy for the lower classes composed of those who are merely millionaires and multi-millionaires. Plus, President Romney has earned our admiration for not being hesitant to show scorn for the peon classes. President Romney will not make the mistake that Obama made of not staying 110% bought by Wall Street!

    Mitt is one of us!!! We will buy the presidency for him or at the least learn what will be necessary to buy all future presidencies.