If there is one thing guaranteed in political campaigning, it is that fund raising is more important now than ever before. Without a considerable bankroll backing their campaigns, politicians find it increasingly more difficult to reach as many potential voters as some of their more well-funded opponents can. In this kind of landscape, big donors and super PACs are beginning to hit their stride, drowning out the voices of college students and most of the younger generation.
By the time the general election came around in 2008, in that year alone, Barack Obama had raised over $650 million, smashing previous records. Roughly half of the contributions to his campaign came in increments of $200 or less, most of them online, signaling an extreme overhaul in how a presidential candidate approaches grassroots funding.
After a landslide victory, Obama's grassroots fund raising heavily mirrored his voter turnout- - he raised more money than any other candidate ever before him, and received the most votes of any president of all time.
Following the election, Citizens United, a non-profit conservative organization, took great strides to see a lawsuit reach the Supreme Court concerning a dispute over an anti-Hilary Clinton documentary, which could not be aired because Citizens United intended to broadcast the film within 30 days of a primary, illegal on the basis of "electioneering communication."
In 2010, in the landmark case "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission," the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Citizens United, stating that "the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions." Since the ruling, many have argued that the decision has led directly to the evolution of super PACs, which cannot be directly involved with candidates they support, but they can accept unlimited funds from donors and advertise and campaign on a candidate’s behalf.
These super PACs have played a substantial role leading into the general election in 2012. Republican candidate and prospective nominee Mitt Romney in particular has seen tremendous support from his super PAC, "Restore Our Future," which has risen upwards of $56 million as of June 3, 2012. This total dwarfs the super PAC contributions of every other major candidate, including raising five times more money than Obama's super PAC, “Priorities USA Action.”
Despite this significant push from Romney's super PAC, his fund raising totals still pale in comparison to Obama's. Since the Federal Election Commission (FEC) started publishing campaign contribution data in Q2 2011, Romney's campaign has raised nearly $145 million, with his super PAC boosting his unofficial spending power to roughly $200 million. Obama's campaign, on the other hand, has raised just over $325 million, with his super PAC adding only $10 million to that total.
Even though there is still much disparity between the two candidates and their spending power, the sources of support have raised some interesting points. While direct contributions to a candidate’s campaign can be no greater than $2,500, super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it at their discretion. Thanks to donations to "Restore Our Future" from individual contributors totaling $1 million or more, campaign spending in support of Romney has tapped a huge pool of spending power only sure to increase come November.
Obama's fund raising strength comes from a very large number of smaller contributions, and his ability to raise and spend money is so far unmatched in 2012 as it was in 2008, but Romney's strength lies in considerably wealthier constituents that hold considerable spending power and have huge interests in government policy.