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2012 election spending tops $6 billion

Andrew Campnell, News Writer
November 14, 2012
Filed under News

Democratic incumbent Barack Obama was elected to a second term in office Nov. 6, capping off the most expensive election cycle in history.

According to the New York Times, Obama’s campaign raised more than $930 million and spent a little more than $850 million. Romney raised almost $900 million and spent a little more than $750 million.

The total election costs exceeded $6 billion, most of it coming from outside sources, called Super PACs.

The high costs could be attributed to the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In this case, the Supreme Court cut spending limits for private interest groups. This allowed these groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on expenditures such as television advertisements.

According to CNN, $750 million has been spent on more than 1 million ads since April.

Aside from unlimited money, these groups also have the right to refuse disclosure of their donors, said Michael Kraft, professor emeritus of public and environmental affairs at UW-Green Bay.

“What you now have are very wealthy people who can play a major role in election,” Kraft said. “So while they only have one vote, they have the power to influence many votes.”

According to the New York Times, the top five biggest independent spenders in this election spent more than $30 million, most of their money going to attack ads. Only one of the five groups, Priorities USA Action, was in opposition to Romney.

The biggest independent spender from this election was Restore Our Future, a Conservative Super PAC that spent more than $140 million on this campaign — 90 percent of which was spent on attack ads.

American Crossroads, a conservative Super PAC, came in second, spending more than $90 million on the past campaign.

According to CNN, almost 150 wealthy donors gave at least $500,000 or more, contributing $290 million of the funds since Nov. 5.

While big spending comes as no surprise in federal elections, local elections have also been more expensive.

This comes as a surprise because local elections typically pale in comparison to higher-level elections, said UWGB assistant professor of public and environmental affairs David Helpap.

An example of this was the Massachusetts Senate campaign between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. According to CNN, this race cost $48 million.

While both parties want third-party spending diminished, it’s going to take a lot of work for this to be done, Helpap said.

“Most of those candidates, regardless of party say we should get rid of third-party money and have some other system,” Helpap said. “But in order to do that, you’re going to need a constitutional amendment at this point.”

Obama’s re-election could also affect the makeup of the Supreme Court. Kraft said now that the election is over, Obama might nominate one or two justices over the next four years, which could affect the Citizens United decision if the Court decides to revisit it.

“Several of the justices are older, and I think in a few cases, the Liberal justices have been waiting for this election to be over so they can retire,” Kraft said.

Kraft said another way campaign spending could be fixed is for Congress to rewrite the law in order to get around the Citizens United decision, though it would be unlikely that the House would cooperate in that situation.

Helpap said with the current state of the Supreme Court, it probably won’t go over this decision in the foreseeable future.

“You’re going to need to see it at the legislative level, whether that be applying just to state races or at a national level,” Helpap said. “I don’t know if there’s enough public outcry just yet.”

However, given the number of negative ads around Wisconsin and across the country, more public outcry could be in store, Helpap said.

Kraft said if or when the composition of the Court changes, another campaign finance case would have to be accepted. The Court would then use that case to either revise or overturn the Citizens United decision.

Although the Court couldn’t have predicted the outcome of the Citizens United decision, there was still some uncertainty from both parties.

“There were some people that feared this would open the flood gates to spending in election campaigns,” Kraft said.

According to Kraft, this was the first election in which the candidates did not accept any public funding. The money was either raised by the candidates themselves or came from private funding.

In fact, according to the New York Times, President Obama raised 68 percent of the total funds going to his campaign, with the rest mainly coming from the Democratic National Committee and Priorities USA.

Romney raised 44 percent of his campaign money. The remainder came primarily from the Republican National Committee and Restore Our Future.

As the messages of the candidates are getting out more frequently, the Citizens United Decision could benefit their campaigns, but Helpap said the message might not be what they have in mind.

“You’re not necessarily in control of what that message is,” Helpap said. “You can have groups putting things out there that are in your favor, but it may not be the way you’re trying to frame your campaign.”

Regardless of the beneficiaries, the Citizens United decision had a profound effect on the election  that Helpap said changed the campaign environment.

The money battle may have been fierce, but any amount of money it takes for candidates to be elected is fine by the parties, said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

“You have immense amounts of money and few undecided voters. But campaigns don’t care about efficiency, they care about winning,” Goldstein said to CNN. “If you spend $500 million and you win by half a vote in Ohio, that was worth it, even if it’s a lot of money per vote.”