- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The video advertisements are looping almost continuously, and early-primary voters can’t escape. Newt Gingrich “has a ton of baggage.” Jon Huntsman Jr. “is more conservative than Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney combined.” And President Obama’s “plan is working: destroy Mitt Romney, run against Newt Gingrich.”

And that’s even before viewers hear from the campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign-finance ruling Citizens United effectively created “super-PACs” - independent, explicitly political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. But it is only in the past few days that the ruling’s effects have become most dramatically realized.

Not counting a single penny dropped by the campaigns, $8.3 million already has been spent advocating for or opposing presidential candidates this year, and the majority has been spent this month.

On Tuesday evening, a group supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry disclosed that it spent $450,000 on Monday, and one supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reported a $105,000 buy Monday, just hours after the candidate called laws allowing the groups “a disaster.”

On Friday, the super-PAC run by a former top Romney aide plunked down $1.3 million in airtime for blistering ads against Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker. The day prior, a group thought to be funded largely by the father of Mr. Huntsman spent nearly a half-million dollars attempting to kick-start the lagging candidate’s campaign. The day before that, boosters hoped $200,500 would be enough to revive the campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. On Dec. 12, the same pro-Perry group spent a half-million dollars and the same pro-Romney group spent $1 million.

The enormous ad buys have been concentrated in Iowa, where that kind of money is enough to saturate every media market.

The sudden flurry of spending comes on the eve of Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses and New Hampshire’s Jan. 10 primary. But as the massive, heavy-handed buys come in rapid succession, it is also clear that an arms race is under way in which one big buy begets another, without the de facto ceiling put into place by caps on donor contributions.

“The super-PACs will see the need to respond to other groups’ advertising that puts them in a bad light,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors money in politics.

Unlike traditional political campaigns, the financial magnitude of these groups’ efforts can be revised with the emotion-filled stroke of a single large donor’s pen as the race evolves, a fact that could continue to keep the Republican presidential race in the kind of flux it has been in for months.

“All it takes is a few - or even one - deep-pocketed donor to pay the way, and they’re able to instantly become a contender in the messaging wars,” Mrs. Krumholz said.

With rare and fleeting exceptions - such as the brief national outpouring of small donations to a lawmaker and his opponent after Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” at the president as the nation watched - advocacy groups and candidates’ campaigns haven’t had that kind of ability to burst onto the scene. Instead, they tend to start slowly, with small-donor fundraising drives that raise the groups’ profiles before they can make a splash.

That’s not so with super-PACs.

Mr. Huntsman, a former Utah governor, has garnered little traction with voters, yet a group supporting him spent $1.9 million, ranking just behind pro-Romney and pro-Perry super-PACs.

The pro-Huntsman PAC, Our Destiny, didn’t exist until late August and has never disclosed its donors, but the candidate’s wealthy father gave it an undisclosed amount of cash.

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