But watchdogs aren't the only ones complaining. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer recently lit into fellow Republican contender and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman over a pro-Huntsman super PAC. Known as Our Destiny, the PAC has made $1.35 million in campaign expenditures, public records show, even as the Huntsman campaign has remained off the air.
Roemer's complaint centered on reports that Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is the PAC's chief underwriter. "Is that independent?" Roemer asked at a candidate forum, according to NBC. "I mean, I have a big imagination, but I just can't imagine that father and son don't talk."
Huntsman's father "is one of a number of donors," said Our Destiny attorney Ronald Jacobs, a partner at Venable. He added: "We have a number of procedures in place to shield the super PAC from the campaign."
The biggest-spending super PAC so far is Restore Our Future, which backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. It mirrors Romney's overall fundraising advantage as of the end of the third quarter. That PAC had raised $12.2 million as of the most recent public disclosures and launched a $3.1 million ad campaign this month in Iowa.
Restore Our Future drew some complaints from watchdogs recently when it changed its filing status from quarterly to monthly, a switch that actually ensures it will not need to disclose any of its donors until early primaries are over.
"Because the primaries were moved up in so compacted a time frame, it's administratively difficult to file preprimary reports almost every week," said PAC Treasurer Charlie Spies, an election lawyer at Clark Hill.
Controversial or not, super PACs may end up playing a disproportionately large role in 2012, election lawyers said. That's because presidential fundraising, particularly on the GOP side, is down compared with previous elections.
Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, agreed this cycle is different: "The relative weakness of presidential candidate fundraising is one of the impulses making super PAC fundraising much more important."