It’s been clear since the start of the Republican nomination that 2012 would be the year of the super PAC. While Mitt Romney’s campaign was better funded than his opponents, it was his affiliated super PAC Restore Our Future that truly freed Romney to tear apart every opponent who momentarily rose to equal footing. The same dynamic is playing out in the early stages of the general election, with Obama's fundraising advantage negated by his super PACs struggles as Romney's continues to thrive.
But far too much time and attention is wasted on super PACs at the presidential level. Romney and Obama will both have plenty of funds when you combined their campaigns and super PACs. Neither will have trouble finding the cash to run a glut of TV ads or hire an extensive staff on the ground. A few extra million here or there will have only a marginal impact on the election’s outcome, especially in the relatively high information level that voters will have when they enter the ballot booth.
Instead, super PACs pose a real danger at lower levels of government. An extra million dollars would barely register in Obama’s FEC report, but could constitute the primary source of outside funding in a House race. According to a report from Talking Points Memo and the Center for Responsive Politics over $12 million has been spent on lower ballot elections so far.
A total of 24 separate races have already received an influx of more than $100,000 in super PAC funds, money with much more potential to swing local races than it does national….
American Crossroads, the massive Republican super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove, is keeping mum on its specific plans, though it has said it will spend millions on behalf of Republican candidates. A spokesman for American Crossroads declined to elaborate on their plans but said the group was “focused on doing everything we can to help the Republican majority in the Senate and keep the majority in the House.”
These are amazing sums of money. Presidential elections tend to kick into full gear far sooner than most other campaigns, which typically don’t get into the full swing of things until the end of the summer. Like Crossroads, the most dominant sources of outside funding tend to favor Republicans, though Democrats have their equivalent organizations. The New York Times detailed a new effort by George Soros and other liberal donors to inject $100 million into the upcoming elections, but the article also revealed the tenuous relationship liberals have with exploiting the post-Citizens United landscape, with the new Democratic efforts going toward ground operations rather than the massive ad buys Crossroads has favored.
Perhaps liberals will raise enough to counter the outside Republican organizations that have dominated the early efforts in 2012. The one thing we know for sure is that if this much funding is already pouring into local elections six months before November the final numbers will certainly reach unprecedented levels before the year is done.