The countless E-mails and endless fund-raising pitches surrounding the 2012 election all pay off now, with Election Day less than a month away. Now that the country is paying attention, outside groups are beginning to empty their considerable war chests in hopes of swaying voters.
Candidates are spending heavily too, but exactly how much won't be known until campaign filings come out a week before the Nov. 6 election. Independent groups, on the other hand, are operating in unknown territory since the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court freed such groups to spend unlimited sums. These groups have so far spent about $780 million, more than twice what they did in 2008, according to the Sunlight Foundation. But in the final 19 days, before Election Day, this spending will hit a whole new level.
Here's a look at what election eve spending looks like:
An estimated $6 billion will be spent this election, and October will undoubtedly be the busiest and most expensive spending spree of the cycle for both candidates and independent groups.
About half of independent groups' spending this cycle, or $360 million, has come in the past month and a half, including $102 million last week alone, according to Sunlight.
The presidential race may be the most followed, but outside spending last week in House and Senate races eclipsed that of the presidential race. From Sept. 7 (when the Federal Election Commission's general election period begins) to last week, House races drew $130 million in independent money, Senate races $102.5 million, and the presidential race $128.8 million, Sunlight reports.
Since Sept. 7, Republicans have spent about $56 million more than Democrats, though President Obama has outspent GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his allies in the presidential race by a wide margin.
Where's The Money Going?
In short, television advertising. While political ads have been a steady presence throughout the year, this Fall they will be ubiquitous. From October 15 to election day, an estimated one million political commercials will air, or about 43,000 a day, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group. That means nearly a third of all the political ads run this election will air in these final two weeks.
Geographically, the ads are heavily concentrated in the swing states -- twice as concentrated as they were in 2008, according to Wesleyan Media Project. TV watchers in Nevada, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado will see the most ads. Las Vegans, in particular, will be flooded. Last week the city broke a record when the 73,000th political ad aired, according to the New York Times,and they continue to air at 10,000 a week..
As for the ads themselves, they're more negative than ever – in years past, about 30 percent of ads were positive, this year it's down to 7.8 percent, says Wesleyan, which tracks and analyzes political media. Predictably, the most popular topics are economic: jobs, taxes, government spending and the budget. Health care is the second-most popular subject in campaign ads, and those mentioning Medicare and Social Security are usually run by Democrats.
Who's Spending It?
For much of the election campaign, the Obama campaign ran more ads than anyone, but in terms of independent groups, the conservatives dominate the airwaves. In October, these groups will empty their coffers in one last advertising blitz.
Of the $180 million dropped by outside groups in October, more than 65 percent has come in ways that were not allowed before the Citizens United ruling.
The biggest recent spenders are American Crossroads, its nonprofit wing, Crossroads GPS, and Restore Our Future, Romney's super PAC. These three collectively have spent $50 million in October in ads criticizing the president or Democratic Congressional candidates. Last week, they spent $21 million on ads criticizing Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The biggest-spending liberal groups, such as Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, League of Conservation Voters, and several unions, have spent about half that so far this month, according to CRP.
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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.