Super PACs have outspent Republican candidates by more than 2 to 1 in Iowa and other early primary states this election cycle, according to data from the Federal Election Commission and Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks ad spending. The gulf is even wider when the picture is broadened to include other independent groups, many of which already haves spots on the air in Colorado, Ohio and states that are likely to be key battlegrounds in November.
The clearest beneficiary of the onslaught has been former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who was able to fend off a last-minute surge by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) with the help of more than $4 million in advertising from Restore Our Future, a super PAC staffed by former Romney advisers. Romney’s campaign spent relatively little ad money in Iowa.
The trend marks a major shift from the 2008 election cycle, when outside groups were subject to more legal restrictions and played a relatively minor role in the presidential contest. But after a series of court rulings in 2010, super PACs and other independent organizations are free to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and wealthy individuals — significantly increasing their ability to influence the GOP primaries as well as the general election.
Super PACs, unlike traditional political action committees, are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates. That allows the contenders to distance themselves from attacks that have become the norm for many super PACs.
“You’re going to see outside groups play a much bigger role than they did in 2008 or even 2004,” said Carl Forti, a Restore Our Future adviser and political director at American Crossroads, a pro-Republican group that says it plans to raise $240 million in the 2012 cycle. “The landscape has changed.”
Crossroads and other independent groups have already set their sights on the next primary states, spending $1.5 million on advertising targeting New Hampshire, about $1 million in South Carolina and nearly $5 million in Florida, according to Kantar’s latest data.
The early spending hasn’t been confined to primary states, either. In the bellwether state of Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) has been the target of nearly $3 million worth of attack ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Crossroads nonprofit arm and other Republican-leaning groups, according to statistics tallied by Democrats.
Neither Brown nor Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, his GOP challenger, have aired any of their own ads yet. Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the influx of outside money is likely to make the contest much closer than it would be otherwise.