Dec. 19, 2012

Report Shows That Outside Groups Are Beginning to Rival Candidates and Parties as the Dominant Voices in Elections

Findings Point to Need for Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Effects of Citizens United

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Election spending by outside groups in 2012 began to rival the amount spent by candidates and the national parties, suggesting that outside groups may become the dominant voices in coming election cycles, a report released today by Public Citizen shows.

The report, “Outside Money Takes the Inside Track,” compares outside spending data in competitive Senate races in 2012 with such spending in recent election cycles, compares trends in spending by outside groups and national party committees, and chronicles the rate at which outside spending has risen overall.

- In four of top 10 Senate races in 2012, outside groups outspent the candidates, Public Citizen’s analysis showed. This has occurred once in the previous three election cycles.

- Outside groups spent 84 percent as much as the national parties in 2012. In the four previous election cycles, outside groups never spent more than 32 percent as much as the national parties.

- The $1 billion spent by outside groups in 2012 exceeded total outside spending for the last four election cycles combined. Just the top three groups in 2012 exceeded the total spent by all outside groups in 2010.

“At this rate, outside groups spending more than candidates will become the new normal,” said Adam Crowther, researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “This trend is corrosive to our democracy, particularly considering the fact that so many of these groups don’t even have to reveal the sources of their money.”

Outside groups were permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. Spending by outside groups was highly concentrated in 2012. The 10 top spending organizations, which made up less than 4 percent of the total, accounted for more than 54 percent of all spending.

Solutions exist to address the takeover of outside money in elections. In the long-term, Citizens United must be overturned, either through a reversal of the decision by the Supreme Court or passage of a constitutional amendment that would restore lawmakers’ ability to limit corporate spending in elections, Public Citizen said.

In the short-term, Congress should pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would enable voters to learn who is behind the avalanche of outside advertisements, and the Shareholder Protection Act, which would give shareholders of publicly traded corporations the right to sign off on their companies’ political budgets.

“Citizens across the country are loudly demanding that we fix our broken campaign finance system,” added Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “It’s imperative that something be done before the next elections come around.”

To read the report, visit https://www.citizen.org/outside-spending-dominates-2012-election-report.