* Outside groups funded more than half of pro-Romney ads
* Presidential ads notably negative compared to 2008
* U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved way for Super Pacs
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 Unlimited spending driven by
Republican groups is responsible for an outsized share of
advertising in the 2012 campaign season that feeds the markedly
negative stream of ads, according to an academic analysis
released on Wednesday.
Super PACs, or political action committees, and tax-exempt
advocacy groups accounted for nearly a third of all the ads
aired in the U.S. presidential race, according to a study by the
Wesleyan Media Project that analyzed broadcast and national
cable spots run between April 26 and Sept. 8.
"The key dynamic of this campaign is the increased presence
of these outside groups in all key races across the federal
landscape," said Michael Franz, co-director of the project and
associate professor of government at Bowdoin College in Maine.
Republican outside groups are largely responsible for this
year's trend. Of 302,580 ads backing Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney, outside groups funded 54 percent,
spending $117.5 million.
Meanwhile, the official Romney campaign spent $37.8 million
for 30 percent of the pro-Romney ads.
"We've never seen that big of a share of outside group
spending in presidential races before," Franz said.
Democrats have been unable to match the fundraising prowess
of these unlimited-funding groups. President Barack Obama's
re-election campaign paid $123.4 million for 89 percent of a
total of 315,556 ads backing him, while groups helped with 9
percent of those ads, investing $14.1 million.
In 2008, outside groups funded 2 percent of pro-Obama ads
and less than 4 percent of ads supporting his Republican rival,
John McCain, according to the study.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark "Citizens
United" ruling removed limits on corporate and union spending in
elections, paving the way for Super PACs and tax-exempt advocacy
groups to raise and spend unlimited funds this election as long
they do not coordinate their efforts with official campaigns.
NEGATIVE AD SEASON
This year's presidential election is also stacking up to be
more negative than the previous one, according to the study that
found both parties more willing to employ attack ads.
More than 72 percent of pro-Romney advertising attacked
Obama and 46 percent of pro-Obama ads returned fire. In 2008,
less than a quarter of pro-Obama and 41 percent of pro-McCain
spots were negative.
"Because of all that group involvement, we're seeing a lot
more negativity," said Travis Ridout, also a co-director and
associate professor of political science at Washington State
University. "When the outside groups are advertising, we're
finding that they're predominantly negative."
But the campaigns themselves are also not shying away. More
than four in ten Obama campaign ads and more than half of Romney
campaign ads were negative.
The top issue featured in spots on both side of the aisle
was jobs, but pro-Romney spots were three times as likely to
mention the federal budget deficit than Democratic ads, the
study found. Pro-Obama ads were more likely to talk about taxes.
Pro-Republican groups also accounted for nearly a third of
all ads since June 1 backing party candidates running for seats
in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Pro-Democratic
groups sponsored about a quarter of ads backing their party
That's notably less than 2008 and even the mid-term election
of 2010 when all attention was on brutal House races.
Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit advocacy group founded by former
George W. Bush aide Karl Rove, was the biggest outside spender
in House and Senate races from June 1 through Sept. 8.
The Chamber of Commerce, a tax-exempt business lobby that
largely backs Republican candidates, came in second, followed by
Democratic Majority PAC, a Super PAC.
The Wesleyan Media Project tracks and analyzes political
television advertising in real-time based on data provided by ad
tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.