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Don’t Call It a Stimulus: 2012 Election Spending Likely To Top $8B

The road to the White House is paved with dollar bills... billions of them. The work begins tonight as President Obama kicks off his fund-raising efforts in his hometown of Chicago. First, Obama speaks at a $5,000 to $15,000-per-plate fundraiser. Then before sitting down for dinner he'll head over to a $35,800-per-person event where he might actually sit and grab a bite. (See what's on the menu.)

The President alone is expected to eclipse the billion dollar barrier in his re-election bid. That goal is a roughly 25% increase over the record $760 million he raised as a candidate in the 2008 race. "[Obama] believes he has to in order to offset what he believes to be an onslaught of outside spending especially by corporate interests," says Bill Holman, government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen.

One reason for the big increase: The Supreme court's ruling in the Citizens United case of 2010, which stated "restrictions on corporate independent expenditures are therefore invalid." In other words, money = speech. In the mid-terms, the first election after the ruling, spending hit a record $3 billion and interest group spending increased five fold vs. the 2006 mid-terms, the Washington Post reported at the time.

Including House and Senate races, Holman estimates as much as $8 billion may be spent on the 2012 elections.

But don't call it an economic stimulus. "That's money that's going to be taken out of corporate treasuries that could have been reinvested for jobs or rebuilding the businesses," says Holman.

Where does all the money go?

The vast majority of the dollars are spent on broadcast advertising concentrated in battleground states. "In 2008 about 87% of all dollars were spent in just 11 states for the general election Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and Nevada," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media - a media buying firm. That's not likely to change dramatically in 2012. "I think this will be a huge windfall for broadcasters," Adgate notes.

In 2008, Obama's team spent $427 million on media, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org website. $244 million of that went to broadcast media. Print and online media, while increasingly important, only received a combined $47 million. The other big chunk of Obama's campaign money, $133 million, went to consultants.