"Money is the huge story this campaign, and there are all sorts of places where you have to track it," says Anna Sale, politics reporter for WNYC's It's A Free Country. As election day nears, campaign contributions will continue to flow from the normal sources: individual donors and political parties. But because of the 2008 Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, corporations and unions are no longer prohibited from spending unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate for elected office.
The change in policy has given rise to the super PAC, an organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money from any source, from an individual donor to a corporation, and then spend that money in support, albeit indirect, of a particular candidate. As of June 20, these organizations have raised a total of $221,227,851, and have spent slightly less than half of that so far during the 2012 election cycle. In the lead is the conservative super PAC Restore Our Future, which has raised a grand total of $46,540,699 in support of Republication presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
With unrestricted donations flowing into super PACs, Sale says: "We don't know what particular issue is motivating Sheldon Adelson late at night to make the decision to give $10 million to Romney's super PAC." Adelson's total contributions to Republican candidates come to $35 million, a sum that has made the billionaire casino owner "a uniquely powerful force in the annals of presidential politics."
Although unfettered by monetary limits, super PACs are still required to disclose Adelson's name, as well as every other individual, association, and corporations that makes donations. Sale discusses another entity on the fundraising scene, the 501c/4, which have no such obligations. These organizations, according to the IRS, must be nonprofit entities which exist to promote social welfare. However, 501c/4s are authorized to make political donations, but are not required to disclose their donors. Sale highlights Crossroads GPS, one such organization headed in part by longtime Republican political strategist Karl Rove, and its potential influence on the upcoming elections.
This week, the Obama campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, demanding that Crossroads GPS disclose its donor information.
"This giving is not just in the presidential race, it's in the congressional race," Sale says. "There are much more modest campaign budgets. If you've got a group like Crossroads GPS that says we want a Republican majority in the Senate and the House, they can spend big money and they make that happen."