New Report Shows Impact of Big Money in the 2012 Election

32 mega-donors match 3.7 million small donors, 99% of non-party spending in WI came from out of state

WISPIRG Foundation

New Report Shows Impact of Big Money in the 2012 Election

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”

More than 99% of “Outside” Spending in Wisconsin’s Congressional races was from groups registered outside of Wisconsin


MADISONThe 2012 elections were the most expensive ever, with massive donations playing a bigger role than ever before. That’s why WISPIRG is joining other reform groups to announce a call for the legislature to let the people of Wisconsin weigh in with an advisory referendum on Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that lifted campaign finance regulations.

It 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 WISPIRG and Demos. Those small donations, which amounted to more than $313 million, came from more than 3.7 million individuals.

A supplemental analysis by WISPIRG and People for the American Way of spending by outside groups (non-campaign or party affiliated organizations) including PACs, Super PACs, corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals in Wisconsin’s congressional races found that more than 99% of this money came from groups like Majority PAC and American Crossroads who are registered outside of Wisconsin. 

“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 Joe Rasmussen, Program Associate for WISPIRG.

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 this special-interest money to fund attack ads on candidates distorts our democracy. Corporations are attempting to ensure that our elected officials put industry interests above the common good,” according to Rasmussen.

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 Rasmussen. “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 lying.”

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.

To this end, WISPIRG is joining 9other groups including Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, People for the American Way, South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend, and the Center for Media and Democracy to launch a coalition calling on the state legislature to place an advisory referendum asking the people of Wisconsin to weigh in on Citizens United and election spending limits.

“What to do about the flood of special interest money drowning out regular people’s voices and dominating our government is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today,” said Rasmussen. “With 11 other states on the record in support of a constitutional amendment, the people of Wisconsin deserve an opportunity to weigh in through a direct vote.”



 WISPIRG, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and well-being.