Million-Dollar Megaphones

New Report Details Latest Numbers on Secret Money, Outside Spending in 2012 Election

Iowa PIRG Education Fund and Demos




WASHINGTON – The Top 5 “dark money” spenders on presidential election ads have reported less than 1% of their spending to the FEC, which is all that is required by the agency’s insufficient standards, according to a new report analyzing the latest campaign filings.

Today, national public policy organizations Dēmos and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released “Megaphones for Millionaires: Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections,” which provides a detailed analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for 2012 election cycle.

Data from the Washington Post illustrates the impact all of this new money flowing into the Presidential election has had in Iowa–the Hawkeye State is one of just ten states in the nation to have multiple media markets with over $2.5 million in television ad buys. The Des Moines/Ames media market has seen $7.4 million in ad buys related to the Presidential election, the Quad Cities received $7.7 million in ads, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City received $6.1 million and Sioux City has seen $4.3 million in TV ads. 

This new report analyzed data through June 30th and reveals:


  • Outside spending organizations, which work to influence elections in a way that is not legally “coordinated” with candidates, reported $167.5 million in spending to the FEC. Of this, $12.7 million (7.6% of the total) was “secret money” that cannot be traced back to an original source.


  • But, because of gaps in reporting requirements, spending reported to the FEC is only part of the picture. When all types of outside spending on television ads related to the presidential race are taken into account, 50% the spending has been by “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors.


  • The Top 5 “dark money” groups spent $53.0 million on TV ads related to the presidential race alone through July 1, but reported only $420,920 in spending on all races through June 30th to the FEC. This means that these groups are currently reporting less than 1% of their spending.


  • The Top 5 outside spending groups have accounted for 58.5% of all reported outside spending in the 2012 cycle.


  • More than half (57.1%) of the $230 million raised by Super PACs from individuals came from just 47 people giving at least $1 million. Just over 1,000 donors (or 0.00035% of the population) giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94% of this fundraising.


  • Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given a combined $36.3 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle. It would take more than 321,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth to match the Adelsons’ giving.


“Today’s outside spending groups act as megaphones for moguls and millionaires,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel for Demos and report co-author. “The more money they pump in, the louder they’re able to amplify their voices—until a few wealthy individuals and interests are dominating our public square, drowning out the middle and working classes.”


According to report co-author Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate at U.S. PIRG, “Our analysis in Megaphones for Millionaires shows clearly that unlimited, corporate, and secret money continues to undermine the principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ and yet our findings are only the tip of the iceberg. We offer recommendations for every level of government to fight back against the Supreme Court’s warped logic that is distorting our democracy.”


Blair Bowie, Adam Lioz, Brenda Wright (Demos Vice President of Legal Strategies), and Liz Kennedy (Demos Counsel) are available for comment. Please see the contact information below:

Lauren Strayer, [email protected], (212) 389-1413

Blair Bowie, [email protected], (202) 213-1971




staff | TPIN

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