Super PAC spending over the top compared with 2008

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Orlando, Fla. (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

Super PACs and other outside groups are already spending four times as much money on this upcoming presidential election than was spent in 2008, the Sunlight Foundation reports.

Super PACs are a type of political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate.

According to the campaign finance watchdog group:

Outside groups, including super PACs and nonprofit organizations, have spent almost four times more on the 2012 presidential campaign than comparable organizations spent at the same point in the 2008 cycle, an analysis of Federal Election Commission filings show.

Four years ago in late March, when Republicans had already wrapped up a wide-open battle for their party’s nomination and Democrats were still engaged in a battle that would go on for months, spending on the presidential campaign by independent groups stood just shy of $22 million. Today, outside spending on the race for the White House has already topped $82 million – this in a year when only one party’s presidential nomination is in doubt.

It may be the most dramatic evidence so far of the impact of the courts’ rollback of campaign finance regulations.

Despite the fact that Super PACs tend to bring in big money and can spend millions supporting or opposing political candidates, the groups receive very limited regulation.

They were created in the wake of the federal court case known as v. Federal Election Commission, which loosened up previous campaign finance regulations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Super PACs “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”

Thanks to new rules, Super PACs can receive unlimited amounts of money from a corporation’s treasuries (i.e. profits), something that was previously illegal.

Polling released this month shows that 70 percent of registered voters believe that Super PACs should be illegal.