Super PACs, the outside organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, have already spent $12.9 million to influence the Republican primaries in Iowa and other early election states. But most of this money comes from sources still in the dark:
According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission data,12 outside super PACs spent money, mostly on advertising, with the intention of electing or defeating a GOP presidential candidate. Ten have not yet reported their donors. The two that have did so last summer.
The upshot is that voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, all of whose contests will be held this month, won’t know who is paying for much of the advertising they see until after their votes are cast.
While we don’t quite know who is giving all of this money, some of its effects are already startlingly clear. $4.6 million has been spent by super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, mainly on ads attacking Newt Gingrich, who has tumbled from his spot as Romney’s main competitor for the top spot in the polls to solidly in the middle of the pack. Gingrich has blamed these ads for making the tone of the campaign increasingly negative and for turning the tide of the campaign against him. Dave Weigel writes at Slate:
Gingrich, who doesn’t have this money, now decries how it’s being used. At a Friday campaign stop in Des Moines, he repeated an old idea to allow infinite contributions to campaigns, but with immediate and full disclosure about who’s donating to whom—not what’s required post-Citizens United.
As the New York Times editorialized today, both confusion and finger-pointing is likely to continue into the general election, where super PACs may play an even bigger role. One of the super PACs linked to reelecting President Obama, Priorities USA, is aiming to raise as much as $100 million. And candidates won’t need to explicitly approve these messages delivered in their names:
As bad as the 2010 midterm elections were for the influence of big money, this year’s presidential campaign … is shaping up to be worse. There are no limits to the dollars involved, and no accountability for the candidates those dollars are buying.