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The totals spent are based on data collected by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. The totals reflect estimates of expenditures on broadcast TV ads and differ from totals reported to the Federal Election Commission.
The totals spent are based on data collected by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. The totals reflect estimates of expenditures on broadcast TV ads and differ from totals reported to the Federal Election Commission.
Spending estimates indicate that two conservative nonprofit organizations have spent nearly $60 million, more than all the Super PACs put together, according to reporting by Kim Barker at the Pulitzer-winning investigative site Pro-Publica. The two nonprofits—Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and Americans for Prosperity—are known as 501(c)(4)s or c4s, which is their designation in the federal tax code. Unlike Super PACs, the c4s do not have to disclose their donors.

The estimates come from what Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG, found. The two c4s spent more than unions, political action committees and political parties, all of which must disclose their donors. Up to Aug. 8, Super PACs had spent $55.7 million on ads that mentioned a candidate and political parties spent $22.5 million.

On the other hand, Crossroads GPS, initiated by long-time political operative Karl Rove, had spent an estimated $41.7 million, according to the CMAG data. Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit funded by Charles and David Koch which boosted the tea party into prominence, had spent an estimated $18.2 million:

"First of all, it shows how much desire there is for secrecy among huge donors who want to be able to spend money to influence this election without leaving any fingerprints," said Fred Wertheimer, who runs Democracy 21, a watchdog group. "Secondly, it shows that so far, there is an enormous advantage being played in this election by just two groups that are exercising undue influence in the elections."
A spokesperson for Crossroads GPS told Barker in an email that the conservative group and others are just doing what liberal and environmental groups have been doing. The CMAG data show that, altogether, conservative c4s have spent some $70 million on TV ads this election season. Liberal c4s have spent $1.6 million.

ProPublica notes that, after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 okayed unlimited spending in federal elections by corporations and unions, it was presumed by many observers that Super PACs would dominate. But it's been the c4s instead.

We know, as ProPublica details regularly, who is putting how much into the Super PACS—people like Harold Simmons and Sheldon Adelson on the Republican side; Irwin Jacobs and Morgan Freeman on the Democratic side. But the moneybags behind c4s are making themselves felt in the elections by taking advantage of one of the biggest maimers of democracy: secrecy.

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