Unlimited spending driven by Republican groups is responsible for an outsized share of advertising in the 2012 campaign season that feeds the markedly negative stream of ads, according to an academic analysis released on Wednesday. Super PACs, or political action committees, and tax-exempt advocacy groups accounted for nearly a third of all the ads aired in the U.S. presidential race, according to a study by the Wesleyan Media Project that analyzed broadcast and national cable spots run between April 26 and Sept. 8. “The key dynamic of this campaign is the increased presence of these outside groups in all key races across the federal landscape,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the project and associate professor of government at Bowdoin College in Maine. Republican outside groups are largely responsible for this year’s trend. Of 302,580 ads backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, outside groups funded 54 percent, spending $117.5 million. Meanwhile, the official Romney campaign spent $37.8 million for 30 percent of the pro-Romney ads. “We’ve never seen that big of a share of outside group spending in presidential races before,” Franz said.
Democrats have been unable to match the fundraising prowess of these unlimited-funding groups. President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign paid $123.4 million for 89 percent of a total of 315,556 ads backing him, while groups helped with 9 percent of those ads, investing $14.1 million.
In 2008, outside groups funded 2 percent of pro-Obama ads and less than 4 percent of ads supporting his Republican rival, John McCain, according to the study. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark “Citizens United” ruling removed limits on corporate and union spending in elections, paving the way for Super PACs and tax-exempt advocacy groups to raise and spend unlimited funds this election as long they do not coordinate their efforts with official campaigns.