On the cusp of the Iowa caucuses, well-funded so-called super PACs are using the political clout given to them by the nation's highest court in an unprecedented tour de financial force.
Data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics indicates 264 super PACs have raised more than $32 million and spent almost $16 million in the 2012 election cycle thus far, The Hill reports.
The lion's share of the money those groups have spent has targeted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, according to The Hill. The impact in Iowa is clear: Iowa voters are being reminded repeatedly about Gingrich's ties to Freddie Mac, his divorces, and his lengthy Capitol Hill career.
"This is politics" former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said last week when he reacted to calls for him to condemn attack ads run by the group Restore Our Future.
The Huffington Post points out that those were part of a $3.3 million negative ad campaign waged by the group against Gingrich.
Candidates with enough financial clout are able to lay their own groundwork to mobilize voters and remain positive while the super PACS continue to run negative ads, the Huffington Post reports.
Campaign finance observers have been concerned that empowered by the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing independent groups to raise and spend unlimited money, such groups would change the balance of campaigns dramatically. In the past the political battlefield has been overseen by political party organizations and candidate committees.
According to a Huffington Post analysis of independent expenditures thus far this election cycle, super PACs have combined to spend $11 million in the Republican primaries, including at least $5.8 million in Iowa alone.
Colby College Professor and campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado pointed out the nature of super PACs.
"These are entities who are organized for a particular candidate. They have every incentive to spend all of their money now. These PACs are organized to help candidates get through Iowa, New Hampshire and all of the early states," he told the Huffington Post.
To put the spending in the 2012 election cycle in perspective, one may look back at the previous two cycles.
As reported to the FEC, in the 2008 cycle, independent groups, the largest of which were unions, spent a combined $3.4 million on independent expenditures across all of the primary states leading up to the Iowa caucuses.
In 2004, those groups reported to the FEC $1.5 million in spending in the run-up to the caucuses.
The super PACs are benefitting from loopholes which protect donors from being exposed. Politico points out the loopholes let the groups keep the identities of their donors private until votes are cast in the first four major contests.
Some of the super PACs that support Romney, Gingric, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have written this month to FEC requesting a change that would permit them to delay revealing who their funders are, reports Politico.
In previous interviews with Politico, FEC commissioners have suggested the disclosure rules may need to be updated to reflect the rise of PACs as the driving forces in presidential politics.
"Super Pacs are functioning as the alter egos of the campaigns and their activity was clearly not anticipated when the statutes were put in place," Democratic FEC appointee Ellen Weintraub tells Politico.
Former Gingrich press secretary Rick Tyler is now a top adviser to the group Winning Our Future. "It's ridiculous that we have the ability to raise unlimited money and direct the message of the campaigns when the candidates themselves don't have this," he noted to Politico.
Former FEC X\Chairman Scott Thomas says super PACs "want to withhold disclosure as much as possible. As voters we should be able to know who is funding and connected to these groups because there's so much information to be gleaned. It would make a huge difference to many voters."
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