Political spending skyrockets

Spending on political ads is racking up for the November elections.

At its peak in August, campaign spending reached $300,000 for one week in the city of Youngstown.

President Barack Obama has raised $587 million, while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has brought in $524 million, according to Federal Election Commission figures.

Paul Sracic, chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University, said two issues affect campaign finance and influence elections: the content of ads and where the funding for said ads is coming from.

“[Citizens United v. FEC] determined that money equates free speech and the independent expenditures are not corrupt,” Sracic said, explaining how the landmark First Amendment Supreme Court case freed up certain restrictions placed on monetary donations to candidates.

Under previous federal law, individuals and groups such as unions and corporations could only give a limited amount of money in support of a candidate. The previous law required these groups to donate through political action committees, or PACs, and these committees could donate only $2,000 per election cycle.

The Citizens United v. FEC case ruled to allow for “super” PACS to raise and spend an unlimited amount of money each election.

Direct people-to-candidate donations are still limited to $2,500 per election. By law, these super PACS cannot coordinate with candidates during the election, but, Sracic said, “Candidates know who spent money, and that’s what gets access.”

At $305 million, most money in the 2012 election has been spent on messages about jobs. This compares to the $62 million spent on messages about education, according to Kantar Media, a campaign media analysis group. Kantar Media also reported that 79 percent of the money spent in Youngstown was used to produce ads negatively directed toward another candidate.

For example, advertising expenditures from WFMJ show that $2.5 million was spent on campaign advertising in Mahoning County. Most of this spending was for negative ads toward a candidate. The largest spender was Crossroads GPS, an anti-Obama group with $675,775 in ads purchased. So far, cumulative spending in Youngstown is $3.2 million. In comparison, $27.7 million was spent in Cleveland, $14.5 million in Columbus and $11.1 million in Cincinnati.  

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