In just 16 days, outside spending groups (like super PACs and various breeds of nonprofits) spent $212.8 million on ads, starting Oct. 1.

As Politico’s Dave Levinthal points out, that’s enough to buy every person living in Flint, Mich., or Green Bay Wis., a “high-end” LED flat screen TV.

That got us thinking, and playing with Wolfram Alpha, what else could 16 days worth of political ads buy?

(Arranged in order from serious, to decidedly less serious.)

  • 1,363 packs of ramen noodles ($334.58 worth) for each homeless person in the U.S. (using 2011 stats).
  • Four years’ tuition and board at Harvard University for 976 students.
  • A full tank of gas for 5,728,129 cars (using national average of $3.71, and assuming a 10-gal. tank).
  • A year’s salary for 3,795 full-time, public school teachers (using U.S. average).
  • The 2012 season salary for every active player on the New York Yankees — plus Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi — with roughly $3 million to spare.
  • First of all, a $32,000 fixed-gear bicycle exists — but even for that price, you could buy 6,650 of ‘em.
  • A binder (like this) for every woman living in the state of California.
  • One of these giant gummy bears on stick for every child 4-years-old and under in the U.S.
  • 5,600,000 shares of Facebook stock when company first went public … or 11,211,801 shares today (stock value is $18.98 now, $38.00 at IPO).

A surprisingly accurate interpretation of every super PAC ad, ever

With just 99 days until the election, it’s understandable that political ads — from both sides — have more or less begun to look the same. That’s why this satirical take on super PAC-style attack ads from cartoonist Mark Fiore made us chuckle. Here’s the transcript:

Can we risk an America run by [INSERT OPPONENT’S NAME]?

He clearly doesn’t understand that America is built on hard work, not [INSERT OPPONENT’S PREVIOUS OCCUPATION].

Sure, now he says he opposes [HOT-BUTTON ISSUE] [NEWS CLIP], but he used to support [HOT-BUTTON ISSUE] [GRAINY FOOTAGE WITH DEAD POLITICIAN].

[OPPONENT’S NAME] is called [NEGATIVE ADJECTIVE] for America, and [APOCALYPTIC NOUN] for our future. He and his organization [ADVERB] attack, because he is an [ADJECTIVE] [SYNONYM FOR LIAR].

He claims to be an [POSITIVE NOUN], but is nothing more than an [ADJECTIVE] [BODY PART] [NEGATIVE NOUN].

Around here, that [DOWN HOME METAPHOR] just don’t [VERB].

Better ask yourself, can America risk [INSERT OPPONENT’S NAME]?

Paid for by [UPLIFTING VERB] Our Future, another super PAC with so much [EXPLETIVE] secret money, it’s [EXPLETIVE] [ADJECTIVE].

Ten weeks out from Election Day, outside spending passes 2008 total

With the end of the Democratic convention today, we’ve only just now reached the beginning of the traditional presidential election season, but that hasn’t stopped outside groups from unleashing a torrent of advertising on the political landscape early on in this election cycle.
The amount spent by super PACs, political non profit groups and other non-political party entities on the presidential and congressional races, about $306.2 million as of September 5th, is already more than such groups spent during the entirety of the last presidential election cycle, about $301.6 million.  Read More | OpenSecrets Blog

ANALYSIS: 2012 election will cost $5.8 BILLION – our most expensive yet |

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections will be the most expensive on record, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates. The Center predicts, based on data from 18 months of fundraising and spending, that the elections will cost $5.8 billion, an increase of 7 percent from the 2008 cost of $5.4 billion

So far overall in the first 18 months of the 2012 cycle, $2.2 billion has been spent, compared with $2.4 billion in 2008.

The presidential race by itself will cost about $2.5 billion, the Center predicts, in funds laid out by the candidates, Democratic and Republican party committees and outside spending groups.

Jerry Perenchio: Making it rain

In addition to owning rights to the movie “Blade Runner” and living in the mansion used in filming “The Beverley Hillbillies,” former Hollywood executive Jerry Perenchio is perhaps better known in the political world as a super donor.

Thanks to Rainmaker, a donation-tracking app from California Watch, we know Perenchio has given nearly $17 million to candidates and issues in the Golden State since 2001 — recently, he’s favored Republican candidates and causes.

On the nationwide level, Perenchio parted ways with another $2.6 million during this election cycle alone, according to FEC filings. What will get him to break open the checkbook?

  • $2 million to conservative super PAC American Crossroads
  • $500,000 to pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future
  • He’s a frequent supporter of the California Republican Party: Perenchio has given the party $5.4 million during this cycle, in addition to a long list of big donations from 2010 and earlier.

Perenchio is famously silent to media, despite being so closely interwoven into both California politics and the old-school Hollywood scene. He’s known for adhering to this rule, “Stay clear of the press. No interviews, no panels, no speeches, no comments. Stay out of the spotlight — it fades your suit.”

We tweet extensively. Follow the hashtag #source2012 for all kinds of breaking and investigative election-related news.


Have you heard about super PACs?

Well, we’re hoping YOU have (as our Tumblr follower), but we wanted what the average voters knows and thinks of the outside spending groups that have been throwing their financial weight around this election.

Our Consider the Source Reporter Michael Beckel and eager participant/camera lady Sarah Whitmire walked around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on the Fourth of July to ask folks if they’d heard of super PACs, if they’d seen political ads so far this cycle and how it all made them feel.

The ensuing conversation went a little further than you might expect.

Dodd-Frank. “Fat cat” populist rhetoric.  Voters have yet to judge whether these and other actions taken by Barack Obama against Wall Street are enough to sway their decision. But one thing has been clear all along this election cycle: Wall Street has abandoned the president in droves for his re-election. 

(Source: Wall Street Journal, data via

In the Midst of Ad Barrage, Federal Court Deals Setback for Disclosure 

A federal appeals court yesterday overturned a lower court’s decision that might have led to disclosure of some donors to many of the secretive, politically active nonprofits that are spending tens of millions of anonymous dollars on the 2012 presidential race.

The case was originally spurred by a 2007 Federal Election Commission regulation that allowed politically active nonprofits that were running certain kinds of political ads to keep their donors secret. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) filed a lawsuit alleging that the FEC reg was contrary to the requirements of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law – and this spring, a lower federal court judge found in his favor. Yesterday’s ruling however reverses that earlier decision, and casts doubt on how much sunlight will shine over big-spending political groups currently operating in the shadows. 
Read more via OpenSecrets Blog (Photo: Gabe Manion,
In many ways, we’re back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government.

David Axelrod, senior strategist for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, in an interview for Jane Mayer’s latest piece in the New Yorker“Schmooze or Lose” on the President’s reluctance to cultivate big donors.

The piece paints an interesting picture of how Citizens United affected fundraising for the country’s highest office, and how President Obama struggles to keep up.

Less than a third of “battleground” Americans feel voting matters:

If you live in a swing state, we’re going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re rather tired of seeing political ads. But the extra-lucky folks who live in battleground congressional districts have been watching millions of dollars worth of ads during commercial breaks throughout this election cycle — a good handful of which can be traced back to a few, small donors (such as Minnesota’s 8th District, Pennsylvania’s 12th District or New York’s 1st District).

A new poll from Public Campaign Action Fund (a nonpartisan group that advocates for improving U.S. campaign finance laws) finds nearly two-thirds of these voters feel large sums of money from undisclosed donors “undermine democracy” to the point where voters themselves feel they’ve lost the power to decide. What is making voters so … sad?

“Voters in the most competitive congressional districts have seen what an unfettered system of campaign spending looks like—and they don’t like it. Voters know big money corrupts our political system and they are thirsty for a plan from any candidate of any party to restore sanity,” writes PC Action Fund’s Adam Smith.

The poll is full of other eye-opening findings, read them here.

(Thanks to PC Action fund’s Tumblr — for tipping us off to the poll. Also, please excuse our non-serious image use for this post.)

CTS explains: 527 groups

Even the pros can sometimes use a refresher, and so we continue our explainer series to help boil down some of the terms being thrown around during this election. This week, we tackle 527 groups … it’s a long one, but stick with us.

What is a 527?

Section 527 is a section of the U.S. tax code that gives tax-exempt status on organizations that exist for the primary purpose of influencing elections.

All political committees are 527s, but not all 527s are registered with the Federal Election Commission as political committees. Romney for President (an official campaign committee) and Restore Our Future (a super PAC) have 527 status with the IRS and political committee status with the FEC. To avoid extra paperwork, the law says they may report only to the FEC.

Some 527s — the ones the media simply call 527s — are not registered as political committees. These are the ones we’re going to talk about.

What regulations do 527s have?

527s report to the IRS. They report contribution information, including the identity of donors who give at least $200. There are no contribution limits and any type of donor — an individual, corporation or union — can give. Before Citizens United, this made 527s a very valuable elections vehicle.

How did Citizens United affect 527s?

Citizens United cleared the way for political committees to take unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals.

Because of this, many of the major 527s transitioned to super PACs. They kept taking in unlimited amounts from anyone they wanted, but with the added benefit of being able to run ads directly advocating for candidates. Prior to Citizens United, they could only run issue ads that did not directly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate, although usually the ads didn’t beat around the bush about which candidate they favored. Instead of reporting to the IRS, the 527s-turned-super PACS now report to the FEC.

Then why do we still have 527s?

Not all politically active groups want (or need) to report to the FEC. Take, for example, groups that focus on state races: Why would they want to subject themselves to federal regulation and reporting requirements when they’re not involved in federal races?

The Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association are the two most relevant examples. They had no reason to transition to super PACs after Citizens United because they rarely spend in federal elections. Both groups also launched super PAC arms.

Instead, 527s are only subject to the election laws specific to the state in which they’re spending.

Thanks to our reporter Rachael Marcus for drawing this graphic.

How nine stealthy super PACs spent $1.2 million influencing voters without disclosing their donors.

Thanks to a quirk in Federal Election Commission disclosure rules, a group of nine stealthy super PACs has been running ads in key primaries in recent months, and disclosing just a fraction (if any) of the sources behind their advertisements. 

opensecrets blog: 

Any super PAC choosing to submit its reports to the FEC on a quarterly schedule must file a pre-election report detailing its finances – including donors’ names – before a primary in which it is active. But then there’s a black hole – a period of 20 days before the primary election, during which the group can take in and spend money without disclosing its donors until the next quarterly filing.

In other words, by timing their expenditures just right in the races on which they focused, these super PACs are able to keep their donors under the radar until after the primaries. The public will learn who the contributors were on July 15. 

The groups include:

  • USA Super PAC, a new group run by conservative legal hero James Bopp, which spent nearly $109,000 in Indiana’s Senate race;
  • Spirit of Democracy Fund, which spent $160,000 in a tightly contested California primary race in May; 
  • IcPurple, a new “pro-independent” super PAC spending on California, which spent $128,000 in that state recently.

Read the full story at OpenSecrets Blog.

Photo: Flickr|Thomas Hawk

I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign, if things continue as they have so far,

In an email sent to supporters this week, President Obama (or his campaign, depending on whether you actually believe he writes these things (spoiler: he doesn’t)) continued to sound the alarm over the amount of cash that’s pouring into conservative outside groups – and not into liberal ones. The campaign has latched on to the narrative as a fundraising tactic for Obama’s re-elect committee: that conservatives will deploy many of these outside groups alongside the money Mitt Romney has raised to defeat the incumbent president.

And in case you’re keeping track alongside the president’s campaign, the latest reported tally per is $122.9 million raised by conservatives vs. $27.9 raised by liberals.

Texans head to the polls today to vote on what is (so far) the most expensive race this election cycle, thanks to massive fundraising by two GOP primary candidates (Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst) and advertising from big-spending outside groups. Through July 11th, Cruz and Dewhurst had combined to spend more than $26.4 million. Outside groups meanwhile had dropped $14.5 million by election day.

OpenSecrets Blog:

A bevy of conservative outside groups has poured over $14.4 million into the race, including $3.2 million in just the past week alone, according to Center for Responsive Politics research. To put that in perspective, total independent spending in Texas is 3 times greater than in the congressional race that has experienced the second-highest level of outside group activity, Indiana’s Senate election.