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Watchdog group: 2012 on pace to be costliest election cycle

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The 2012 election cycle will be the most expensive in history, costing nearly $6 billion and outpacing the record-breaking price tag of $5.4 billion in 2008, according to a campaign finance watchdog group.

The Center for Responsive Politics predicts the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will cost $5.8 billion, though it cautioned that the surge in outside spending from third-party groups and Super PACs makes the end result difficult to predict.

The 2008 cycle was the first year the country crossed the $5 billion mark, said Sheila Krumholz, the group’s executive director.

“The big question now is whether we will already reach — or surpass — $6 billion just one cycle later,” she said. “At a minimum, we’ll come close. More important than the total spent, the real difference this cycle is how great a portion of that money will come from purportedly independent, often secretive groups.”

In the first 18 months of this cycle, spending actually lags slightly behind 2008, at $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion. But 2012 is the first presidential cycle after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which has led to a massive increase in the number of outside spending groups, many of which are not required to disclose their donors.

Super PACs — which cannot coordinate with candidates or their committees but can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money — have spent more than $165 million as of July 30. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC, the largest of all, has spent about $55 million as of July 30.

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