Outside spending tops $105 million–and counting–in just nine days


Outside spending groups–PACs, super PACs, nonprofits and party committees–have spent a staggering $105 million to influence federal elections over the past nine days. Overall, outside spending in the 2012 election is now just a few million short of $600 million, according to Sunlight’s Follow the Unlimited Money tracker.

The $105 million, disclosed on independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, was spent from Sept. 26 to Oct. 4 and includes an $11 million ad buy by the conservative super PAC American Crossroads opposing President Barack Obama and reimbursements amounting to as little as 31 cents that the liberal nonprofit Working America paid to its operatives supporting Obama and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. 

If the outside spending continues at that clip through Election Day, on Nov. 6, the total would top $1 billion.

That $105 million includes $56 million disclosed in the first five days of October. In all of September, outside groups spent $208 million, an all time record for third party spending. 

That $105 million figure will only increase as nonprofit groups and political action committees file their expenditure reports covering October 3 and 4–they have 48 hours to do so–with the FEC Friday and Saturday. As the chart below shows, the October numbers come mostly from expenditures in the month’s first two days, when a whopping $50 million was dropped.

Since Sept. 26, the outside money surge has been led by the GOP-aligned super PAC American Crossroads and its sister nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, which have combined to spend over $19 million. Two business associations–formed under section 501(c)6 of the Internal Revenue Code–the US Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security–have dropped over $8 million each, mostly in opposition to Democrats and support of Republicans. Two of the Chamber's recent ad buys have supported House Democrats–Jim Matheson of Utah and John Barrow of Georgia. 

Meanwhile, the party committees have also had a big presence: the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports GOP House members, has spent $7.5 million. Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, pumped out $6.8 million.

The three biggest super PACs supporting Democrats–Priorities USA Action Fund, the Majority PAC, which focuses on Senate races, and the House Majority PAC–combined to spend $8.3 million over the nine day period.

Overall, in the 2012 election cycle, outside groups have disclosed spending $593.2 million in independent expenditures, with the bulk coming from super PACs ($323.6 million), followed by organizations–nonprofits, labor unions, and business leagues that only under rare circumstances are required to disclose their donors to the FEC ($133 million), party committees ($99 million), and traditional PACs ($45.3 million).

That $593 million figure does not include electioneering communications–radio, television and cable advertisements that mention federal candidates without advocating their election or defeat. Spending on those "issue ads," which groups only have to disclose to the FEC within 30 days of a primary, caucus or nominating convention, or 60 days before the general election, amounts to at least $4.7 million.

How much has been spent on issue ads outside the 30 and 60 day windows can only be determined by accessing the political files that the Federal Communications Commission requires broadcast and cable outfits to maintain. Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth project aims to help make these files more accessible to the public.


(Graphic by Kevin Koehler)