Did Super PACs Make a Difference in the 2012 Election?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. | Photo:asterix611/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Across the country during the last election cycle, billions of dollars in outside spending were put into races, and right here in Southern California, there is one race that appears to exemplify how much that influence can have on campaigns.

Incumbent Congressman Joe Baca recently lost to another Democrat, State Senator Negrete McLeod. Baca and McLeod had raised less than $1 million between the two of them. But then a funny thing happened on the way to Election Day. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured more than $ 3 million of his very sizable personal fortune (estimated at about $25 billion) into the San Bernardino County race.

Bloomberg's Super PAC, Independence USA, spent money on television advertisements and campaign mailers. Why? Well, Bloomberg is a staunch gun control advocate and Baca is a pro-gun Democrat.

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While we may never know the true effects of outside campaign spending in races throughout the country, the Baca-McLeod race points to the strong influence that outside spending can have in some instances. In this case Bloomberg's Super PAC spent more than three times the amount raised by both candidate campaigns combined. It is possible that Independence USA simply grabbed the biggest microphone in the race and the people listened.

In addition, it is notable that paid forms of communication (television advertisements and mailers) are still the primary mode of electoral communication. Although members of the electorate may increasingly get their information on the internet, they are still watching and reading advertisements that cost money.

My prediction is that we can look for more groups to follow Bloomberg's lead and carefully target campaign contests where it looks like outside spending can swing the electorate.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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