Super PACs raised more in the first three months of 2012 than they did in all of 2011, and after just two years of existence have emerged as a financial force that rivals the political parties and candidates' campaign committees.
An unusual conjunction of Federal Election Committee filing deadlines — reports from campaign committees that file quarterly were due at midnight Sunday while those that file monthly were due Friday — has given us the first comprehensive look at the impact of super PACs in the first presidential campaign year where they've been a factor.
An analysis of data gathered by the Sunlight Foundation's Follow the Unlimited Money tracker reveals that super PACs — entities that sprang up in the wake of a series of 2010 court and Federal Election Committee rulings that loosened campaign finance restrictions — raked in at least $102.5 million in the first quarter of 2012, bringing the total amount that super PACs have have raised since the beginning of the current campaign cycle to $200 million.
By comparison, the total raised this cycle by the Democratic and Republican national committees and the three remaining financially viable presidential candidates — President Obama, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — is just under $420 million since Jan. 1, 2011. Adding in the totals raised by the Republican and Democratic congressional committees brings the total raised by the party establishment to $535 million. The parties' Senate campaign committees' reports won't be available till later because senators have exempted themselves from electronic filing requirements but based on news reports, their fundraising for the cycle would add another $135 million to the pot.
The pace of super PAC fundraising picked up significantly this year as the GOP primary season got underway. The total that the groups have raised just since January bested the $98.3 million they reported for the whole of 2011. There was also evidence of the increasing popularity of the new entities, which can raise and donate money in unlimited amounts: At least 59 new super PACs filed expense reports through the end March, though they accounted for a relatively small take overall: they raised $4.3 million and spent just over $1 million.
Not surprisingly, spending picked up dramatically–super PACs spent $86.6 million in the first quarter of 2012, compared to $16.3 million in all of 2011. That left super PACs with $79.5 million in the bank as of Mar. 31–or $16 million more than they had at the start of the year.
While a tough primary and caucus season has left Republican presidential candidates in debt, with Rick Santorum owing nearly $2 million and Newt Gingrich $4.3 million, super PACs have fared much better–through Mar. 31 they owed just $3.5 million. By far the most money was owed by "Revolution PAC"–which backs Ron Paul. A filing made April 14 showed the PAC owed more than $2.2 million and had just $2,149.62 in the bank. It's unclear if Revolution PAC's accounting was correct, however–it's common for PACs to revise their filings repeatedly.
And while real estate baron Sam Zell may not have enough money to keep afloat the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper that filed for bankruptcy after he bought it, he did find $20,000 to spare last month for Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Romney.