WASHINGTON -- Super PACs and conservative non-profit groups have helped Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blunt the massive television advertising spending by President Barack Obama's reelection campaign in the late spring and early summer of 2012.
Televisions in the eight swing states that could decide the 2012 election were inundated by ads from the Obama campaign, which spent $67 million on television advertising in May and June, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Romney's campaign was largely absent from the airwaves in comparison, spending only $14.9 million over the same time period.
This spending disparity -- Obama spent four-and-a-half times as much as Romney on ads -- was reduced to a less than two-to-one advantage because of aid from independent pro-Romney groups whose spending was empowered after a series of court rulings that lifted most restrictions on how the groups can raise and spend their money.
These groups, both super PACs and social welfare non-profits organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, spent $41.8 million on ads attacking Obama in May and June. Allies of the president, including Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, spent only $12.3 million on advertising over the same period.
Social welfare non-profits, which do not disclose their donors, led the way in independent ad buys favoring Romney. The Karl Rove-linked Crossroads GPS spent $25 million over the course of May and June, according to a press release put out by the group. Americans for Prosperity, founded and funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent an additional $5.5 million.
Spending by non-disclosing groups was buttressed by an $11.3 million increase in spending by the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future.
This spending bears out concerns raised in Obama campaign fundraising emails to supporters. In late May, the campaign sent an email from former President Bill Clinton. "We're facing a tidal wave of anonymous, unlimited spending," Clinton wrote in the email.
The Obama campaign has repeatedly warned that it risks being outspent, not just by the Romney campaign, which is now raising more money than the president, but also thanks to the new campaign finance reality of unlimited independent spending.
After the Romney camp announced it had raised more than $100 million in June, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote an email to supporters. "One hundred million is alarming enough, but it doesn't even include the millions pouring into pro-Romney super PACs -- or the fact that, unlike four years ago, it's perfectly legal for the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove, and anonymous billionaires to funnel unlimited money into attacking President Obama in critical battleground states," he said in the email.
So far in July, the ad war appears to have tilted fully in favor of Romney. The Republican National Committee, which was sitting on $89.4 million at the end of June, recently launched a $9.5 million ad campaign attacking Obama on the economy.
While the RNC can only spend $21.7 million in conjunction with the Romney campaign, they have split off an independent unit to run ads with no coordination with the Romney team or RNC employees working with the Romney campaign. The party committee did the same thing for then-candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 when it spent more than $50 million on independent expenditures.
Crossroads GPS also announced another $25 million ad campaign at the end of June and the group's super PAC arm, American Crossroads, made an $8.5 million buy, its first targeting the president. Americans for Prosperity announced a $9 million ad buy that will target both Obama and some vulnerable Democratic Senate candidates.
A Bloomberg report found that from July 16 to July 22, Romney, supporting super PACs, non-profit groups and party allies combined to air 27,365 ads compared to 21,082 from Obama and his allies.