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Super Tuesday Super PAC Spending Blitz

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Poll workers look on at a polling place during Super Tuesday voting in Youngstown, Ohio.

Super PACs backing the presidential candidates made hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of last-minute expenditures on TV and radio ads, direct mail and phone banks on the eve of Super Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, the big spending has concentrated on Ohio, which is considered a make-or-break state for GOP frontrunners former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), and will be a key general election battleground. Delegates are up for grabs in 11 states today, including Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has spent more than $3 million in Ohio since the beginning of the contest, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. That includes more than $350,000 on Ohio broadcast ads and phone banks since March 1. Restore Our Future has spent $31 million in the primary overall, making it by far the top-spending super PAC.

The Red, White and Blue Fund, which backs Santorum, has poured more than $1 million into Ohio, including more than $300,000 spent on advertising and phone banks in early March. It has spent $5.3 million altogether.

Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, focused instead on Georgia, pouring more than $1 million into the former Speaker’s home state, including more than $22,000 since the beginning of March. Winning Our Future also invested slightly more than $41,000 in Internet ads in several states on the eve of Super Tuesday, including Georgia and Ohio. Total Winning Our Future spending amounts to $16 million.

Even Priorities USA Action, the super PAC behind President Barack Obama, went into Ohio ahead of today’s primaries and caucuses, spending more than $77,000 on anti-Romney ads. Endorse Liberty, a super PAC supporting Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) has spent $3.5 million in this election, but has stayed away from state-specific broadcast ads in favor of generic online advertising.

The spending blitz comes amid renewed complaints from watchdog groups that unrestricted political action committees are violating campaign finance laws. Democracy 21 has sent two letters to the Justice Department in recent days alleging that the super PACs backing Obama, Romney and Santorum are all engaged in illegal coordination with the candidates.

An outgrowth of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, super PACs may raise and spend unlimited corporate and union money on campaigns, but only if they keep candidates and parties at arm’s length. The Democracy 21 letters point to close connections and relationships between the candidates and the super PACs supporting them. The super PACs and candidates named have said they are following election laws.

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