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Presidential super PAC spending hits $30 million

Groups backing Romney, Gingrich spend about $3 million each in S.C.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich participate in the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Mitt Romney continues to enjoy a huge advantage in support from “super PACs” overall, but is running about even with a pro-Newt Gingrich group in South Carolina, records show.

The pro-Romney group, “Restore Our Future,” has spent $2.95 million in the state, slightly less than the pro-Gingrich group, “Winning Our Future” at $3.1 million, according to the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission.

Super PACs were created following court decisions in 2010 that allowed groups to accept unlimited corporate and labor union contributions and spend the funds to elect or defeat a candidate. Criticism of the groups has ramped up in recent weeks.

Total spending by presidential super PACs in the primary states has reached $30.4 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.

As voters go to the polls in South Carolina on Saturday, two groups supporting the former Massachusetts governor have spent $12.2 million. The bulk of the spending was on advertising attacking Gingrich's record. Groups supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are a distant second at $4.8 million.

Third is a group supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry at $4 million, though it has spent little since Iowa. Perry has suspended his campaign.

Restore Our Future as of Jan. 1 had spent $4.1 million. As of Friday, its total stood at $11.3 million. The rest came from a group calling itself “Citizens for a Working America” which bought ads supporting Romney.

"Winning Our Future" has spent $4.1 million, a huge increase since Iowa, when it had spent less than $800,000. Gingrich got a big boost from casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson who reportedly gave the PAC $5 million. The rest came from “Strong America Now,” another pro-Gingrich group.

Congressman Ron Paul has also enjoyed a big boost from super PACs supporting his candidacy. As of the first of the year, they had spent less than a half-million dollars. As of Friday, that total had risen to $3.4 million, with the bulk of expenditures going toward online advertising.

On Jan. 13, Endorse Liberty Inc., the largest of the Paul-supporting super PACs, spent $1.5 million on AdWords advertising with Google.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania also got a bump, but groups supporting him have only spent $2.1 million.

Unlike the other organizations, the pro-Romney group is moving aggressively into Florida, the site of the next primary. Of the $11.3 million Restore Our Future has spent to date, $4.95 million has gone to direct mail and advertising in Florida, nearly all of it in opposition to Gingrich.

The group made an ad buy of $1.5 million on Wednesday in the state.

Some numbers in this story have been changed slightly to reflect updated Federal Election Commission filings.