If Americans were wary of the Supreme Court opening the floodgates of outside election spending with Citizens United two years ago, they like it even less now that they’ve seen what the decision has reaped. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll Tuesday shows 69 percent of Americans think super PACs should be illegal.
Super PACs, highly visible in the volatile Republican primary, have taken to playing bad cop by flooding the airwaves with negative attack ads that benefit their chosen candidate but also allow the candidate to absolve himself of any blowback. Super PACs have spent an estimated $75 million to date on the election, almost entirely on the presidential race, according to Langer Research Associates, the firm that conducted the poll. That’s more than the candidates’ own campaigns.
Despite super PACs’ efforts, spending so far on the GOP primary is far less than normal — overall fundraising and spending this election cycle is lower than in the last three election cycles, a report in the Washington Post found Tuesday. The report, which compiled spending through January 2012, shows money raised and spent this cycle at less than half of where it was four years ago, when super PACs weren’t a factor. The Post attributes the dampened fundraising to a lack of enthusiasm over a weak candidate field. If anything, it seems super PACs’ largely negative ads would help suppress overall enthusiasm for the race.
The slower fundraising by the campaigns has, in turn, increased super PACs’ influence. As David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, told the Post, if super PACs were around in 2008, when campaign spending was high, they would have had less of an impact. In February 2008, the Obama campaign raised five times what Mitt Romney raised in February 2012, $57 million to $11.5 million. If the 2012 campaigns were raising at that clip, super PACs might not feel as compelled to spend as heavily.
The heightened visibility of super PACs has not endeared them to Americans of either party. Among the seven in 10 Americans who want to ban super PACs, according to the poll, 52 percent feel very strongly about the issue. Among Tea Party supporters, 69 percent oppose such groups, 59 percent of whom strongly oppose them. Along party lines, 70 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of independents favor outlawing the outside spending groups.
The national poll of 1,003 adults by landline and cell phone was conducted March 7-10, and has a 4-point margin of error.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.