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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Total Cost of Election Could Be $6 Billion

The total cost of the 2012 election could reach $6 billion, according to estimates from a leading research organization, which would obliterate the previous record by more than $700 million.

The increase has largely been driven by rapidly increased spending among “super PACs” and outside groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors. Spending by outside groups could reach to more than $970 million for the 2012 cycle, although precise estimates are difficult because the rate of spending by outside groups has been rising so quickly since Labor Day

But even that increase could substantially understate the total. While super PACs - political committees that sprang into being after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling - spent at least $539.4 million through Oct. 31, hundreds of millions of dollars more are being spent below the radar by groups that do not register with the Federal Election Commission and purport to focus on educational, not political, activities. Such groups spent at least $203 million in the last two months, a window during which federal law requires formal disclosure of any expenditures that mention a candidate, and they spent even more earlier in the campaign cycle, on “issue ads” that are not subject to disclosure. Measured merely by the spending that is disclosed, three of the top six outside groups in 2012 are issue groups that are not required to publicly reveal their donors.

“One thing we can say for certain is that the transparency the Supreme Court relied upon to justify this new framework has been sorely lacking,” said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which released the estimates on Wednesday.

The center said that the presidential election would likely account for about $2.6 billion in total spending, including spending by the candidates, parties, and outside groups. That figure would represent a decrease from 200 8, in part because of lower spending by candidates in the primaries: President Obama, the incumbent, had no significant opposition, and the Republican candidates on the whole raised much less than the field did in 2008. But total spending by the two parties and their nominees through Election Day is likely to easily outpace 2008, because neither Mr. Obama nor Mitt Romney is accepting public financing and spending caps for the general election.

Perhaps the biggest expansion of outside spending has been in the battle for the House and Senate this year. Between 2008 and 2012 - neither a midterm election - independent expenditures in the House and Senate races increased from $46 million to $445 million, a tenfold increase that does not include issue ads run early in the cycle to soften up incumbents of both parties.

Follow Nicholas Confessore on Twitter at @nickconfessore.