Outside spending enabled by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision surpassed $840 million this election season, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Super PACs and nonprofits have lavished the bulk of these funds on Mitt Romney and Republican candidates.
Just 858 individuals who contributed at least $50,000 each comprised 60 percent of all the money collected by super PACs, with the top 149 donors raising $290 million. The money overwhelmingly went to produce negative ads, which ate up 88 percent of pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future’s funds, and 95 percent of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads expenditures. Pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, while far outspent by its right-wing counterparts, spent 100 percent of its $57 million on negative ads.
Nonprofit organizations also played a huge part, with GOP nonprofits outspending Democratic ones by more than 8 to 1. These nonprofits, which are allowed to keep their donors secret, injected more than $245 million in so-called “dark money” into the election.
Romney heavily drew from wealthy donors, while the Obama campaign has been buoyed by grassroots supporters. 34 percent of the Obama campaign’s donations came from individuals who gave $200 or less, while they donated just 18 percent of Romney’s funds.
But super PACs have helped the Romney campaign overcome Obama’s grassroots fundraising, as Brad Smith, Republican lawyer and former chairman of the FEC openly admitted:
[Super PACs] have helped to level the playing field between Romney and Obama, whereas otherwise Obama’s spending advantage would have been substantial.
Should Romney win the election, he will be deeply beholden to these large donors. A ThinkProgress analysis identified 8 of Romney’s most generous supporters, all of whom work in either finance or the energy industry.
Citizens United has also given Romney a boost by loosening up the rules preventing employers from directly talking to employees about politics. Many conservative groups and business owners are taking advantage of this new flexibility by pressuring employees into contributing to Romney’s campaign or warning them that their jobs are in jeopardy if Obama wins.