Money and Democracy

Published — January 3, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Presidential candidates outspending ‘Super PACs’

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a caucus day rally at the Temple for Performing Arts, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP

Outside groups create alternate spending channel


The “super PACs” backing various presidential contenders spent at least $12.9 million last year to help their favorite White House hopefuls — that’s a lot, but it represents only a fraction of the amount spent by the candidates themselves.

Through the end of last September, the campaigns of Democratic President Barack Obama and Republicans Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Fred Karger, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain combined amounted to $74 million.

That’s according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics.

While these totals do not include any expenses from the fourth quarter of 2011 — those need not be reported until January 31 — they far exceed the amounts spent by their super PAC supporters through December 2011.

In nearly all cases, the respective candidates’ campaign spending far outpaced the technically-unaffiliated super PACs. (Super PACs can accept unlimited donations from corporations, labor unions and individuals and spend the funds to help or hurt candidates.)

While super PACs backing Romney led the way with more than $4.5 million in independent expenditures, his campaign committee spent more than $17.5 million. Obama, who saw super PACs spend $306,229 in support of his re-election, spent over $27 million in campaign funds. And although a pro-Huntsman group spent more than $1.8 million to help the former Utah governor, this amounted to less than half of what his campaign spent: about $4.1 million.

Only Rick Perry’s campaign spending so far this year were smaller than those of his supporters’ super PACs. Perry, who did not announce his candidacy until August, still managed to spend about $2 million through the third quarter of 2011. It is likely that when his fourth quarter totals are released, they will exceed the more than $3.7 million super PACs spent on his behalf.

Individuals can give a maximum of $2,500 to each candidate per election.

John Dunbar contributed to this report.

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