Two candidates, $660m raised, endless adverts. But is it worth it?

Americans' TV screens have been bombarded by campaigns paid for by controversial Super PACs – but they're not as effective as everyone expected


At the end of the video, the narrator comes into focus as he says: "there's not much time left, and the future of our country is at stake." It's Clint Eastwood in the starring role backing the Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Mr Eastwood's ad was developed by American Crossroads, a Super PAC (Political Action Committee) run by Karl Rove, the former chief strategist of President George W. Bush, whose efforts have raised $80m on behalf of Mr Romney.

In the presidential campaign so far, the total amount of money raised by the Super PACs in support of both the President and the former Massachusetts governor stands at a staggering $661m, according to their filings last week to the Federal Election Commission. Their spending – which has mostly been on television attack ads – has been recorded at $512m. But there are questions over how effective the negative ads are among voters in the swing states which have been the main targets.

John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University has teamed up with the polling institute YouGov to survey the reaction of 600 independent voters over the last few months. Describing the ads as "carpet bombing" of voters whose favourite shows and sports games are constantly interrupted, Mr Geer says that according to his project "the millions of dollars spent on advertising are not having much of an effect on the public's preferences."

However Jonathan Collegio of American Crossroads argued that the conservative Super PACs were levelling out the playing field.  “Incumbents have a huge monetary advantage and Super PACs evened it out,” he said in an email. Mr Collegio added that "between May 1 and August 31 Obama outspent Romney on TV ads by $100m and the Gallup tracking poll remained tied."

Mr Rove's American Crossroads fundraising is second only to the pro-Romney Restore our Future Super PAC which has brought in $132m. In third place is the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama aides, which has raised $64m from outside groups.

Restore our Future yesterday unveiled its latest ad as it prepares to spend a total $20m in eight battleground states in a final blitz before next Tuesday's election. The ad describes the "flatlining" economy under President Obama and urges voters to "demand better" or face four more years of a "dead economy."

A major donor to Restore our Future is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, who each contributed $5m earlier this month. Mr Adelson intends to spend more than $70m in the campaign. Other donors include wealthy Texans from the energy industry.

After initially holding back from creating Super PACs, the Democrats have spent around $400m. The pro-Obama Super PAC donors include media figures such as comedian Bill Maher.

The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation is campaigning for greater transparency from the Super PACs. The foundation's editorial director, Bill Allison, yesterday recognised that their arrival actually suited both campaigns by providing political cover for the candidates. But "we need better disclosure around some of these groups and to find out whether there is a corrupting influence," he said.

The Super PACs are a creature of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, known as Citizens United, which lifted restrictions on campaign spending, legalising unlimited corporate donations to independent political committees.

The Supreme Court not only prompted a dismayed reaction from President Obama at the time who blasted the decision as "damaging to our democracy" by allowing "corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections." It also triggered satirical reaction, particularly in the form of a spoof by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert which demonstrated the impossibility of maintaining a firewall between the presidential contenders and the so-called independent political committees.

In the three weeks following the Supreme Court ruling, Mr Rove's American Crossroads had registered its website. Craig Unger, the author of Boss Rove, notes that after an initial trip initial to Texas to meet with wealthy donors, American Crossroads obtained commitments of about $30m – nearly four times the amount that the Republican National Committee had in its coffers. Thanks to the Super PAC's non-profit status, it does not have to disclose the identity of its contributors.

During the campaign, the television ads have aired in the dozen battleground states – including Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – which will decide the election outcome.

Although the outside contributions to the pro-Obama Super PACs have lagged behind the opposing camp, the Democrats have been able to keep pace with Romney by using campaign money to pay for TV ads at a lower rate than the Super PACs which can be charged twice or three times as much.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk