The political action committees known as super PACs are stepping forward to bear most of the cost of GOP candidates’ advertising as the campaign shifts to the South - reflecting the toll the long, grueling contest is taking on their treasuries.
The super PAC allied with Mitt Romney has already begun buying ads in Alabama and Mississippi, which have primaries Tuesday, as well as in Illinois and Louisiana, where voting does not take place until later this month.
Two new super PACs have emerged to help Newt Gingrich. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue Fund has purchased about $500,000 worth of air time in the South.
Super PACs can purchase ads supporting their candidate but can also use negative ads against opponents, without the candidate having to take responsibility. Barred from coordinating their activities with their candidate, super PACs can also accept unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, or unions.
As super PACS pick up more costs, candidates can spend less from their own campaign accounts.
“Money’s tight for everybody,’’ one strategist said.
While Gingrich’s two new super PACs are much smaller than the multimillion-dollar one funded by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, they have been a new source of funds for the former House speaker. Gingrich has a strategy of winning a string of Southern states from the Atlantic to Texas.
American Jobs PAC, created Feb. 21 by a law firm in Sacramento, reported spending about $255,000 to help Gingrich in Washington state, where Gingrich finished a distant fourth in the March 3 caucuses. Charles H. Bell, an attorney who is listed as the super PAC’s treasurer, did not return calls from the Globe.
Another new super PAC, Winning Freedom Inc., created in late January by a Web marketing entrepreneur and Tea Party activist from Austin, Texas, Brandon Todd, spent about $102,000 on Web advertising and commercials on TV stations in selected markets in Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma to help Gingrich before the Super Tuesday contests.
Todd said Thursday that the super PAC, funded by a combination of his money and donations raised online, had about another $100,000 available and that plans were not yet finalized on how it would be spent.
Santorum, who would like to use wins in Alabama and Mississippi to drive Gingrich from the field, is benefiting both from campaign funds and the Red White and Blue Fund.
The campaign will spend about $1 million in Alabama and somewhat less in Mississippi, said a spokesman, Hogan Gidley. The Red White and Blue Fund is spending on mail and phone calls to complement the $500,000 in air time it has purchased in the two states, said a spokesman, Stuart Roy.
Santorum’s campaign war chest has benefited greatly from his ballot-box successes. The campaign reported its best fund-raising month by far in February, taking in about $9 million - double its total from January. The campaign, however, did not disclose its cash-on-hand figures.
Over the entire campaign, Santorum has raised less than $16 million but managed to win six states plus a Missouri “beauty contest’’ where no delegates were at stake. Missouri will hold caucuses March 17.
Official reports for February will not be filed with the Federal Election Commission until March 20.
Meanwhile this week, Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future, added to its buys in the South with purchases of $680,385 of media time in Alabama and $581,183 of time in Mississippi, according to independent expenditure reports filed with the FEC.
All of the super PAC’s media buy is in opposition to Santorum or Santorum and Gingrich, the reports show. The super PAC is also spending on anti-Santorum mail and phone calls in both states, reports show, and is advertising heavily in Illinois ($901,438, according to an FEC report), which will hold its primary on March 20, and Louisiana ($425,166), which will hold a primary four days later.
Restore Our Future leads all super PACs with $33.8 million in independent expenditures to date, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. The Romney campaign, which has won 14 of 22 contests and has a wide lead in the convention delegate count, reported raising $11.5 million in February, ending the month with $7.3 million cash on hand.
For Gingrich, the twin Southern primaries next Tuesday are critical. After 22 contests so far, he has wins in just South Carolina and Georgia, and for long stretches has not been a factor anywhere else. Failure to win even as a regional candidate - he is running third behind Santorum and Romney in some Alabama polling - would undercut if not demolish his oft-stated scenario for victory.
But his major allied super PAC, Winning Our Future, has kept his candidacy afloat as a result of the generosity of Adelson, who, along with family members, has committed as much as $21 million to the independent expenditure vehicle, according to news accounts.
Rick Tyler, strategist for the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future, declined to reveal any spending plans, except to say that it has been advertising in the upcoming states for about a week and has spent heavily on national radio and Web advertising focused on upcoming states, including Kansas, which will hold caucuses this Saturday. Winning Our Future has spent $16.1 million on independent expenditures, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
The campaign of Ron Paul, the fourth candidate still in the race and the only one who has not yet won a nominating contest, is not on the air in either Alabama or Mississippi.
Brian C. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.