, WASHINGTON, Feb 1 – Anonymous donors behind the shadowy “super PACs” whose attack ads have shaped the 2012 Republican presidential race were to be exposed for the first time in financial filings with the Federal Election Commission.
As of January 31 there were 302 of the so-called political action committees, and they have spent a total of $44.9 million dollars, according to the FEC.
The money has come from donors who have been unknown until now. The groups have until midnight to file records with the FEC revealing the identity of their donors and how much they have raised — too late for voters in the four states that have already held Republican nominating contests.
“It’s a great day for transparency,” said comedian Stephen Colbert on Monday as he turned in records for the Super PAC he created, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”
Voters “in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida will finally have the vital information that would have been useful before they voted,” said the star of the eponymous Colbert Report show on Comedy Central.
Colbert’s PAC, created to mock the whole process, disclosed it has raised a whopping $1.02 million, mostly from multiple small donations.
A super PAC that backed the now-defunct bid for the Republican nod from former China ambassador Jon Huntsman revealed in its filing to have raised some $2.7 million dollars — and the main contributor was his father, billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr, who injected $2 million into the effort.
The major PACs supporting frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were yet to reveal their funding, as the midnight deadline approached.
A handful of the wealthy backers have been known, by name at least — US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has reportedly donated $10 million to “Winning Our Future,” a group backing Gingrich that has blasted Republican rival Mitt Romney.
A pro-Romney group, with a similarly upbeat name, “Restore Our Future,” has used millions of dollars in anonymous donor cash to bombard Gingrich with a barrage of negative ads ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primary in Florida.
While the pro-Gingrich group has portrayed Romney as a weak conservative undeserving of the Republican nomination, the pro-Romney PAC has highlighted what it says is the former speaker’s past ethical and moral failings.
“Restore our Future” has spent some $8 million to air over 13,500 radio and television spots in support of Romney in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Michigan, according to a study conducted by the Wesleyan Media Project.
The Wesleyan study found that the PACs influence has boomed this election cycle compared to 2008, with a more than 1,600 percent increase in interest group sponsored ads.
The huge increase came after the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that removed restrictions on corporate and union spending on federal elections so they can raise unlimited funds without being subject to the same limits on candidates, so long as they do not coordinate their activities with the campaign.
Despite restrictions on direct coordination, the super PACs regularly employ former staffers who have direct knowledge of the candidate’s campaign strategy.
Their influence has been credited with doing more to shift the momentum in state primary contests than the candidates’ own performances in debates or slogging away on the campaign trail.
“One reason we’ve seen the Florida polls shift in Romney’s favor over the past few days, when the national polls have not, is that his message has dominated the paid airwaves,” said Wesleyan Media Project director Travis Ridout.
Rivals Gingrich, former senator Rick Santorum and congressman Ron Paul “have had a much more difficult time making themselves heard” over the Romney campaign, said Ridout.
The top candidates — Romney and Gingrich — have denounced the attacks launched by each other’s anonymous super PACs, and called on them to stop the negative campaign.
The richest of the PACs is Romney-backing “Restore Our Future,” which raised $12,231,700 so far this cycle, according to data posted on the Center for Response Politics group OpenSecrets.org website.
Less well-endowed are “Endorse Liberty,” which has spent just over $3 million so far in support of Ron Paul, and “Red, White and Blue,” which has bolstered Santorum’s bid with just under $2 million in spending.