One of the many unfortunate side effects of the rise of the super PAC, the non-campaign organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts influencing elections, this season has been the increase in attack ads. 2012, as the Washington Post reports, has been a “particularly nasty presidential primary season”:
Four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends.
And the negative ads are not just more frequent — they also appear to be more vitriolic.
Super PACs deserve much of the blame for this major upswing in nastiness:
Data show that super PACs, which have run more advertising than the campaigns themselves, have spent 72 percent of their money on negative ads. The figure for campaigns is 27 percent, according to a Washington Post analysis of data…
“Super PACs are left with no good choices,” said Brad Todd, a longtime GOP adman who worked for Romney and the party in 2008 but is unaffiliated in this contest. “If they didn’t run comparison or contrast ads, they would have some very boring television.”
Meanwhile, this trend looks likely to continue. Reports filed yesterday with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) show that the Republican campaigns are growing more and more dependent on the funds provided by their super PACs:
Bolstered by Mr. Romney’s extraordinarily high burn rate, the campaigns spent about $5 million more during January than the super PACs supporting them. But over all, super PACs backing the four leading Republican contenders raised $22.1 million in January, slightly more than the candidates themselves, and ended the month with $19.4 million in cash on hand, about $5 million more than the candidates had.
Most of that money came in six- and seven-figure checks from just a few dozen individuals or corporations — the billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson, the mutual fund investor Foster S. Friess and the PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among others — who have exploited recent court rulings and changes in campaign finance rules to exert unprecedented influence over their party’s choice of presidential nominee.
The Washington Post: Study: Negative campaign ads much more frequent, vicious than in primaries past
The New York Times: G.O.P. Campaigns Grow More Dependent on ‘Super PAC’ Aid