Well-established candidates have always had the edge in fundraising, but under the new rules governing money in politics, it looks as if the rich are just getting richer. The vast majority of the $14 million in spending from “super PACs,” a new type of political group, has been spent on behalf of three candidates: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman Jr., federal records show. Those are the same three candidates already most reliant on money from large donors.
“It’s just proven to be a vehicle for getting around contribution limits,” said Michael Malbin, a scholar at the Campaign Finance Institute, which advocates for regulations encouraging small donors. “It’s made for people who’ve already maxed out.”
Two years after the Supreme Court decided the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, it is becoming clear that the super PACs created under the new rules will act as a counterweight to a rise in online grass-roots fundraising. The online efforts, which tend to attract small donations, have been driving unconventional contenders in the GOP field, including Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). (Bachmann dropped out of the race last week after a sixth-place finish in Iowa.)
By contrast, super PACs, because they can pull in donations well above the $2,500 limit on donations to campaigns, are boosting establishment candidates who already rely on rich donors.
The Citizens United decision created a cascade of lower-court rulings, allowing for the creation of super PACs that can accept huge donations from individuals and corporations. Several of the groups active in this year’s race have already accepted many donations over $1 million from one person.
The advantage is likely to grow as the candidates move to the next round of primaries and caucuses, where they will be competing in bigger states and relying more on television advertising to reach voters.
Spending on television ads by groups independent of the campaigns is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago, according to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG.