Joe Rasmussen, [email protected], 262-305-3123
Distorted Democracy: Big Money and Dark Money in the 2012 Elections
Madison – A new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by WISPIRG and Demos shows that outside spending in the first presidential election since Citizens United is living up to its hype: new waves of “outside spending” have been fueled by dark money and unlimited fundraising from a small number of wealthy donors.
“While the results of next week’s contests are up in the air, one thing is clear: big donors and secret spenders have been drowning out the rest of our voices for months,” said WISPIRG Program Associate Joe Rasmussen.
Outside spending organizations reported $ 1.11 billion in spending to the FEC through the final reporting deadline in the 2012 cycle. That’s already a 200% increase over total 2008 outside spending.
This shift has had a major impact right here in Wisconsin. Outside groups have spent over $30 million on the senate race between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson. Only the races for President and Virginia’s Senate seat have seen more outside money spent to influence voters.
Large Donor Dominance
Almost half of all reported outside spending comes from Super PACs, the independent-expenditure-only committees created in the wake of Citizens United, and Super PACs continue to receive the bulk of their funds from a tiny set of ultra-wealthy megadonors.
$266.6 million or 60.5% of the 440.9 million raised by Super PACs from individuals came from just 91 people giving at least $1 million. Just over 1900 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 97% of this fundraising.
“On Election Day, we’re all supposed to have an equal say,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel for Demos. “But, next week a small group of millionaires and billionaires will have more influence than millions of middle class families.”
Figures show that while small donors are playing a role in campaign fundraising, unlimited large donor money can easily wipe out those gains. The two Presidential campaigns combined have reported raising $394.4 million from small donors giving less than $200, who are at least 1,972,000 individuals. But just 629 megadonors contributing $100,000 or more were responsible for giving a comparable amount – $393.4 million – in Super PAC donations.
“Because of their wealth and the Supreme Court’s equation of money with speech, those megadonors are able to amplify their voices to more than 3,100 times the volume of the small donors,” noted Rasmussen.
Super PACs’ biggest fans, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, have given $52.2 million in the 2012 cycle, which, though a sizable chunk of change, is just .21% of their net worth. It would take more than 322,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth, $162, to match just the Adelsons’ giving.
Business Money to Super PACs
While it is likely that much of the business money coming into the elections is funneled through dark money sources such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which so far has spent at least $35 million on races nationwide, the analysis found that business corporations remain the second-largest source of Super PAC money, accounting for 12% of all Super PAC funds.
Some of the largest and most active Super PACs receive a significant portion of their funding from businesses. Pro-Romney Restore Our Future received over 20% of its funds from for-profit corporations. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is 16.8% corporate sponsored, with 9.4% of the Dem-aligned Majority PAC funding coming from such sources.
Polling last week found that 84 percent of Americans agree that corporate political spending drowns out the voices of average Americans, and 83 percent believe that corporations and corporate CEOs have too much political power and influence.
Of the $1.11 billion in reported outside spending, $257.9 million was “dark money” that cannot be traced back to an original source.
Because of gaps in reporting requirements, spending reported to the FEC is only part of the picture. Groups take advantage of loopholes in the law to avoid reporting certain communications intended to influence the elections. When all types of outside spending on television ads related to the presidential race are taken into account, 32% of the spending has come from “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors.
“Americans across the political spectrum have long held transparency in campaign funding to be crucial,” said Rasmussen. “When citizens can’t follow the money voters can’t judge the credibility of political communications and corporations and other special interests can fund misleading advertisements while evading accountability.”
Last week, new polling found that 76% of Americans support a requirement that companies publicly disclose their contributions to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that funnel their money into politics.
Voting a Critical Counterbalance
WISPIRG and Demos are encouraging every eligible American to go to the polls by November 6th to push back on the power of big money.
“Unlimited, corporate, and secret money continue to undermine the principle of ‘one person, one vote,’” Lioz said. “It’s more important than ever that Americans use the power of their votes to push back and make their voices heard.”
This is the second release in the WISPIRG and Demos series of analyses on the role of big money in the 2012 elections. The previous report is available here. Today’s release reflects a comprehensive analysis of outside spending, including figures not available from the FEC. The organizations will release a short post-election update on November 9, and a comprehensive analysis of all election fundraising and spending in January 2013.
WISPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.
 Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2012&disp=R&pt…