The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed nearly $1 billion in new political spending in the 2012 election, with media outlets and a small number of political consulting firms raking in the bulk of the proceeds.
Spending records released by the Federal Election Commission show that throughout the 2012 election, corporations, unions and individuals that could take advantage of the high court’s ruling were responsible for about $933 million of the estimated $6 billion spent during the contest.
Nearly two-thirds of the new money — about $611 million — went to 10 political consulting firms, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. All but one of the top 10 recipients bought advertising in various media markets on behalf of super PACs and nonprofits. Eighty-nine percent of the expenditures made to the top 10 went to spots attacking candidates, the data show.
“For some in the industry, it has been a definite boon,” said Dale Emmons, president of the American Association of Political Consultants. “This election appears to have set a new benchmark on the amount of money that could be spent, because there were no limits on what could be spent.”
The 2010 Citizens United decision and a lower-court ruling allowed unlimited donations to super PACs and nonprofits, independent groups that used the funds primarily to fund ad campaigns.
Media buyers keep only a fraction of the total spending — usually 15 percent, according to Federal Communications Commission records, with the rest going to media outlets.