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Super Tuesday brings super PAC spending milestone

Heading into Super Tuesday, spending by super PACs aligned with presidential candidates has surpassed spending by all super PACs in the 2010 mid-term election.

To date, super PACs aligned with one of the 2012 White House hopefuls have spent more than $66 million, an iWatch News analysis of data filed with the Federal Election Commission has found. Notably, the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC “Restore Our Future” accounts for almost 50 percent of this spending.

The super PAC has spent more than $32 million so far this election, nearly all of it on ads bashing his opponents. That’s nearly twice as much as the $16 million spent by pro-Newt Gingrich “Winning Our Future.” And it’s roughly six times as much as the $5.3 million spent by the pro-Rick Santorum “Red, White and Blue Fund.”

In the hopes of drowning out Romney’s challengers, Restore Our Future is ramping up its post-Super Tuesday investments as well.

BuzzFeed Politics reported Monday that Restore Our Future purchased $750,000 of ad time in Illinois and also made a $457,000 ad buy in Louisiana, states which will hold their primaries in the third week of March. These buys put Restore Our Future’s total expenditures across the $32 million threshold.

In 2010, all super PACs spent $65 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Super PACs focused on congressional races are also expected to be major players during the 2012 election. The Republican-supporting “American Crossroads” super PAC and Democratic-leaning “House Majority PAC” and “Majority PAC” have largely kept their guns quiet. Even the main super PAC backing President Barack Obama has spent just $689,000 so far — all of it opposing Romney’s presidential bid.

The iWatch News analysis included all filings submitted to the FEC as of publication time, which covered most activity through Monday, March 5.

For its part, Romney’s super PAC has leaned heavily on hedge fund billionaires and private equity managers for its funding. The group has reported raising nearly $37 million thus far this campaign season, far more than any other presidential super PAC.

Meanwhile, casino titan Sheldon Adelson, along with his relatives, have been the main financial backers of the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future super PAC, donating close to $20 million thus far to the group.

Wyoming businessman Foster Friess and Louisiana energy exec William Dore have been the largest two donors to the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund, each giving at least $1 million to date.

And the pro-Ron Paul “Endorse Liberty” super PAC has received the bulk of its funding from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

The three super PACs supporting Paul have spent a combined $3.9 million, with Endorse Liberty accounting for nearly $3.5 million of that sum.

Super PACs arose in the wake of two federal court rulings in 2010, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, and are allowed to accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, trade associations and individuals to fund political advertisements. They are prohibited from coordinating these ads with the candidates whose campaigns they aim to boost.

Source: Federal Election Commission
Graphic by Ajani Winston. Story by Michael Beckel.