Million Dollar Megaphones

Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections

Outside spending on the Wisconsin senatorial race has already exceeded $4.5 million. With the presidential campaign heating up and Wisconsin named as a battleground state, more secret money is expected to flow into the state to influence the votes of Wisconsinites. Much about who funds these efforts and how this funding is spent remains a mystery, according to a report analyzing the latest campaign filings. This report provides a detailed analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for 2012 election cycle.


WISPIRG Foundation

Executive Summary

Although each major party presidential candidate will likely break previous fundraising records, the big story of the 2012 election has been the role of Super PACs, nonprofits and outside spending generally.

Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle reveals:

Outside spending by organizations that aggregate unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals and institutions is playing a significant role in the 2012 election cycle, and much of it is not disclosed.

–Outside spending organizations reported spending $168 million.  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, 51% the spending has been by “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors.  According to an Annenberg Center study, the top four 501(c)(4) spenders on the presidential race have spent $29.3 million as of June 1, 2012 on advertising in the presidential race alone, but our analysis shows these same groups have only reported spending $15.6 million collectively on all races through June 30th to the FEC.

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

Super PACs continue to be tools used by a small number of wealthy individuals and institutions to dominate the political process.

–Nearly 60% of the $233 million raised by Super PACs from individuals came from just 48 people giving at least $1 million.  Just over 1,00 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 95% of this fundraising.

–Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given a combined $46.3 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle.  Nearly 322,000 average-earning families would have to give an equivalent percentage of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ giving. 

–For-profit businesses contributed $34.2 million to Super PACs, accounting for 10.6% of their fundraising.  There are reasons to suspect business are contributing much more to nonprofit organizations and trade associations that do not disclose their donors.