New Report Shows Impact of Big Money in the 2012 Election

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32 Super PAC Mega-Donors Match Total Giving of 3.7 Million Presidential Campaign Small Donors; Nearly Half of TV Ads in Presidential Race Funded by “Dark Money”

MASSPIRG Education Fund and Demos


BostonIt took just 32 billionaires and corporations, giving an average of $9.9 million apiece to Super PACs, to match every single dollar that small donors gave to the Romney and Obama campaigns, according to Billion Dollar Democracy, a new report by MASSPIRG and Demos, nonpartisan organizations which tracked campaign spending. Those small donations, which amounted to more than $313 million, came from over 3.7 million individuals.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos.  “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” commented Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a Supreme Court case decided in 2010, held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

The report provides a detailed analysis of all federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data uncovers the undue influence that large donors, business interests and secret spenders had in 2012.

For two of the 10 most active Super PACs, corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds, making up 18 percent of Restore Our Future and 52.6 percent of FreedomWorks for America’s total contributions.

“Allowing special-interest money to fund attack ads on candidates distorts our democracy and gives corporations the power to determine winners and losers in our electoral process. The political marketplace must not be dominated by corporate wealth, because the strength of a citizen’s voice should not depend on the size of her wallet,” according to Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies with Demos.

Billion-Dollar Democracy also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for nearly half of all television advertising in the presidential race.

”These dark-money groups hide key information from voters about where they get their money,” noted Domenitz. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show that ads funded by dark money are far more likely to be misleading or just downright incorrect..”

The report concludes with policy recommendations for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in our political process. Most importantly, the report calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our ability to set reasonable limits on campaign spending. “Citizens in Massachusetts went to the polls in droves in November to call for overturning Citizens United,” commented Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause MA, which spearheaded local ballot questions in 173 municipalities. “This report underscores the need for that action.”