the national interest

How the Election Wasn’t Bought

28 Aug 2012, Tampa, Florida, USA --- Republican strategist and fundraiser Karl Rove at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Rove runs the powerful Super PAC American Crossroads --- Image by ? Brooks Kraft/Corbis
With my team of secretive billionaires, we have devised a plot so insidiously brilliant that nothing can stop us! Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis

One of the dogs that hasn’t barked in this campaign is the massive financial advantage Mitt Romney was expected to enjoy on account of nearly unlimited funds available to him from conservative Superpacs. Yet, even including the efforts of outside groups, Obama has been out-advertising Romney in the key swing states. Look at this chart of political ads in Ohio, compiled by Paul Blumenthal and the Huffington Post:

Photo: Huffington Post

The full story of how the financial tsunami failed to strike has yet to be untangled, but bits and pieces have dribbled out over recent days.

The Democratic Superpacs, reports the New York Times today, have gotten their act together, even if they can’t match the Republican effort. The GOP Superpac effort may have underwhelmed in part because it offers a more scattered message, not controlled by the campaign, that fails to drive the central theme as effectively.

What’s more, Obama seems to be getting way more bang for his buck. Republicans are paying their staff twice the rate Democrats are paying theirs, allowing Obama to have twice as many people working for him for the same amount Romney is spending. And the Washington Post today reports the little-known fact that campaigns, by federal law, can command lower advertising rates than Superpacs, giving Obama consistent, and occasionally huge, savings:

In one Ohio ad buy slated to run just before the election, for example, Obama is paying $125 for a spot that is costing a conservative super PAC $900.

Most of the reporting until recently has focused on inputs, like the financial imbalance between the two sides. But the outputs are a different story.

How the Election Wasn’t Bought