WASHINGTON -- The rapid growth of super PACs has dramatically altered the world of campaign finance, providing wealthy donors with the ability to pair their seemingly bottomless accounts with the independent expenditure committees of their choice.
It's also dramatically altered the way that candidates are going about managing their political operations. This past quarter, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spent almost identical amounts of money on expensive television advertisements as he did on direct mail, a far less pricey operation. That's because an allied super PAC, Restore Our Future, paid for most of the T.V. ads that have bolstered his campaign.
According to an examination of files submitted to the FEC on Monday, the Romney campaign spent $2,712,760 on "placed media" between October and December of 2011. "Placed media" is, as the campaign confirmed, just another word for "bought media" or advertising purchases. $13,000 of that total was spent on print advertising, while the rest appears to have been spent on television ads. The majority of the money went to American Rambler Productions, LLC, the consulting firm that houses some of Romney's top aides.
By comparison, during that same time period, the Romney campaign spent $2,423,242 on direct mail and an additional $180,215 on telemarketing.
Other expenditures contributed to the cost of both television advertising and direct mailing. The Romney campaign spent, for example, roughly $388,000 on "media production." While a good chunk of that total likely went to developing television ads, some of it was also spent on web videos, website features and similar projects. Additionally, $214,360 was spent on printing and design costs and $42,470 on postage fees. Most, though not all, of that money was likely spent on direct mail.
That Romney campaigned for three months spending basically the same amount of money on television ads and direct mail may have been the product of a weak field of primary candidates and a wide-open schedule. The first contest, after all, didn't come until January 3rd.
But it was also a byproduct of the new world of campaign finance. It's not as if Romney was penny pinching. His campaign has raised $32,535,292 in contributions since it was launched. But he didn't have to write checks for the more expensive television ads because an allied super PAC was waiting in the wings to help him with that.
According to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal, between Dec. 8, 2011 and Jan. 31, 2012, Restore Our Future PAC spent more than $17.5 million on campaign activities. Just under $15 million of that total was devoted to "media production" or "media buys." By comparison, $2,138,355 was spent on direct mail, $10,424 was spent on "print ads" and $102,582 was spent on email advertising.
The ads, specifically the TV spots, helped deflate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign in Iowa and, more recently, Florida. But they also gave Romney a huge financial lift, allowing him to horde his own money for the general election. Since officially announcing his run for the White House, Romney has spent $17,959,357.
"That's actually pretty economical when you think about what he set up. They are trying to conserve money and run a tight operation because they want to make sure they have cash on hand for either a long nomination fight or the summer," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director of the Public Campaign Action Fund.
"It wasn't until [South Carolina and Florida] that you saw candidates running any kind of negative ads against each other," Donnelly added. "They outsourced that activity to the super PACs."