December 12, 2012

Campaign spending hit unprecedented levels

More than $11 million was spent on Maine's Senate race, and the flood in spending from super PACs and anonymous donors has caused concern on both sides of the aisle.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – The two top finishers in Maine's U.S. Senate race raised more than $500,000 during the final weeks of a campaign in which total spending topped $11 million, more than half by outside groups.

Independent Sen.-elect Angus King raised a total of $2.8 million in his bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe, including $358,000 between mid-October and the election, according to final campaign finance reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission.

King amassed a campaign war chest more than twice as large as his nearest rival, Republican Charlie Summers, who raised roughly $1.1 million over the course of the campaign and $153,000 in the final weeks. Democrat Cynthia Dill, who finished third on Election Day, raised $16,300 during the final two weeks of the campaign and roughly $170,600 for the campaign cycle.

But even when combined, the candidates themselves spent significantly less than the outside, independent groups that funneled $7.4 million into the campaign -- primarily to help or hurt King and Summers.

Total spending for the 2012 Senate campaign also fell short of the $14 million spent during the 2008 campaign between Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Rep. Tom Allen.

Nationwide, the 2012 elections shattered all sorts of records with total spending exceeding $6 billion.

The presidential campaign surpassed the $2 billion mark, with a flood of money flowing to both candidates in the final weeks of the campaign.

The pro-President Obama PAC Priorities USA Action raked in $15 million in the final weeks while two PACs supporting Republican Mitt Romney received $33 million from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife in the closing weeks, The Associated Press reported Friday.

The unprecedented spending both on the presidential and congressional races was driven in no small part by the rise of the "super" PACs and similar groups in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Critics of the current system point out that the court ruling opened the door for unlimited donations by wealthy individuals and corporations, oftentimes anonymously.

"The donors to super PACs that supported both sides basically purchased a premium seat at the table in Washington when it comes to government decisions in the future," Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign finance reform group Democracy 21, said this week at a forum at the National Press Club. "Super PACs turned out to be a political sandbox for millionaires and billionaires."

The flood in spending from super PACs as well as the rise of "dark money" from anonymous donors has caused concern on both sides of the aisle, even though spending by such groups tilted in favor of Republican candidates. Whether those post-Citizens United reservations are powerful enough to motivate lawmakers to approve bipartisan campaign finance reform is unclear, however.

A handful of Republicans and Democrats are reportedly working behind the scenes on reform bills that would strengthen the disclosure requirements for super PACs and politically active nonprofits. But those efforts are likely to encounter opposition from some Republicans and others who oppose spending limits or additional disclosure requirements.

There are also petition drives in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn provisions of Citizens United and a related ruling. However, constitutional amendment campaigns face daunting odds because they require endorsement by two-thirds of the members in both chambers of Congress as well three-quarters of the states.

The sums spent on Maine's congressional races were modest compared to other campaigns around the country. But Maine's Senate race attracted national attention and money, especially from outside groups that operate independently of the campaigns.

The latest FEC reports -- due by midnight Thursday -- show that donations continued to flow to Maine's Senate candidates right up until Election Day.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)