Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not yet been named as his party's official nominee, but that hasn't stopped President Obama from treating Romney as his main rival in November.
Priorities USA, a Super PAC that supports the president's re-election, plans to spend $660,000 in television ads that attack Romney's economic policies. The ads will air in Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Virginia, four key battleground states in the general election. According to the Federal Election Commission, Priorities USA has already spent $1.5 million on anti-Romney ads this year. Conservative Super PACs, such as the pro-Romney Restore Our Future and Karl Rove's American Crossroads, have greatly outspent their Democratic counterparts this election season.
As of April 18, 428 groups organized as Super PACs raised more than $179 million since the start of the year and have spent nearly $89 million in that same time period, based on research conducted by OpenSecrets.org. The biggest beneficiaries of campaign donations are Restore Our Future and Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich Super PAC.
The general election may still be months away, but both Obama and Romney are calling on supporters to boost their campaign contributions, and each has recorded web videos to solicit donations. Obama's campaign announced that the president collected $53 million last month, an increase from February's $45 million, but still short of what Obama had raised in March 2008 when he was first running for the White House.
Unless the Supreme Court's landmark decision in the Citizens United case is one day reversed, Super PACs -- the new political action committees that developed as a result of the ruling that liberalized election fundraising by groups -- will continue to influence (and potentially decide) political races at both the state and federal levels.
But a coalition of wealthy business owners and philanthropists is trying to reform election giving by focusing on New York's public financing system. Leo Hindery, a member of the New York Leadership for Accountable Government and a managing partner at private equity firm InterMedia Partners, says New York could serve as a model for the rest of the nation because it has one of the least restrictive campaign finance systems in the country.
"We know the federal system is broken since Citizens United," he says in an interview with The Daily Ticker. "This is an insidious way to run a country. The average American citizen voter has almost no say in Congress."
Hindery, who has advised President Obama about economic issues, bemoans the president's decision in February to endorse Super PAC spending -- a sharp reversal for the President who has previously denounced campaign spending by independent groups.
"I would have rather we fought the good fight and lost on this one," Hindery says. "I would have loved it if President Obama said, 'look, I'm opting out.'" (See: Obama Pushes for Super PAC Donations: Is His Decision Rife with Hypocrisy?)
Hindery argues that billionaires and corporations are disproportionately having their voices heard by politicians. Their gigantic campaign contributions, some of which are anonymous, are forcing politicians to ignore the top issues impacting the majority of Americans.
"If you can buy Congress, so to speak, for a few million dollars and benefit yourself to the tune of billions of dollars as certain industries have, it's a good investment," he says cynically. "It's not a fair investment. It's not an ethical investment. If the only measure is [one's] return on investment, it's a good investment."
For more coverage of these issues, see: