The spending underscores the rapid rise of “super PACs” and their prominence in the 2012 campaign: the $1 million spent so far by independent groups in the GOP primary is four times greater than it was at this point in 2008, according to ad tracking data from Kantar Media.
But all of that independent spending also can mean that voters are getting hit with a lot of different, and sometimes confusing, messages. That stems in part from campaign laws that ban independent groups from coordinating their strategies with the candidates or their campaigns.
“You’re going to have many more players involved,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar’s political ad tracking group. “And when you have more players involved, you can have different strategies and different agendas, even among friends.”
The ad campaign by Restore Our Future, for example, did not line up neatly with Romney’s evolving campaign message.
On the same day that Romney unleashed a pointed attack on rival Newt Gingrich, the Restore Our Future ad made no mention of the former House speaker, focusing instead on criticizing President Obama as a “community organizer” and “law professor” with no record of creating jobs.
“Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs,” the ad says, referring to Romney’s time as co-founder of the Bain Capital private equity firm.
The message was similar to the Obama-focused theme that Romney has been sounding throughout his campaign, but far different from the new focus on Gingrich.
Restore Our Future’s treasurer, Charlie Spies, said in a statement that the ad, which also shows background on Romney, highlights the candidate’s “proven track record when it comes to creating jobs, turning an economy around without raising taxes, and taking businesses from bust to boom.”
The group appears to be just one step behind Romney’s campaign. Late Thursday, a 60-second spot attacking Gingrich surfaced on the Internet, but it was quickly removed from YouTube.
In some cases, super PACs are spending more on the airwaves than the candidates they are aiming to help.
Jon Huntsman’s campaign hasn’t run any ads, but his super PAC has spent $493,000 on television through the start of this week, according to estimates from Kantar, which don’t include local cable and radio advertisements. The super PAC has reported more than $1 .3 million in total spending to the Federal Election Commission.
Romney’s campaign has spent only $157,000 on ads through Sunday, according to Kantor’s estimate, a rate far lower than the $3.1 million campaign planned by Restore Our Future.