Report: Reclaiming Our Democracy

Million-Dollar Megaphones

Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections
Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos

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 $167.5 million in spending to the FEC. 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, just over 50% of the spending has been by “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors. According to Kantar CMAG data, the top five 501(c)(4) spenders on the presidential race have spent $53 million through July 1st on advertising in the presidential race alone, but our analysis shows these same groups have only reported $420,920 in spending collectively on all races to the FEC through June 30th. This means that these groups are currently reporting less than 1% of their total spending.
  • 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.
 

  • Just over 57% of the $230 million raised by Super PACs from individuals came from just 47 people giving at least $1 million. Just over 1,000 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94% of this fundraising.
  • Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given a combined $36.3 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle. It would take more than 321,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth to match the Adelsons’ giving.
  • For-profit businesses contributed $34.2 million to Super PACs, accounting for 11% of their fundraising. There are reasons to suspect businesses are contributing much more to nonprofit organizations and trade associations that do not disclose their donors.

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