Fueled by the Adelson family’s second $5 million donation to assist Newt Gingrich, spending in the final week of presidential primary campaigning in Florida is expected to top $16 million.
Virtually overnight, the contribution from Miriam Adelson wiped out much of the money edge that Mitt Romney enjoyed in Florida just days ago. Like an earlier $5 million donation from her husband Sheldon, a casino magnate, the latest infusion went to a super PAC supporting Gingrich.
The donation - massive even by today’s inflated standards - provides the most graphic example of how wealthy individuals can have an outsized influence on political campaigns under the new rules since the US Supreme Court decision allowed unlimited donations to political action committees not officially affiliated with a candidate.
It’s not just wealthy GOP donors that have Romney in an unexpectedly close contest. Two labor groups and a pro-Obama super PAC have poured in more than $1 million to attack Romney. The two-front assault has the onetime front-runner from Massachusetts fighting to stave off a devastating defeat in next week’s Florida primary.
“For Romney, if he doesn’t win Florida, his campaign may pretty much be over, and Gingrich is looking for a knockout punch,’’ said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida. “They will do whatever it takes to win.’’
The Adelsons’ $10 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC is, while generous, not a record contribution from one family. It is, for example, far short of the $23.7 million billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros contributed in the 2004 election cycle to Democratic and liberal organizations. But those groups, known as 527s after the section of the tax code under which they operated, had restrictions on the timing and content of their electioneering messages. Those constraints were eliminated by the recent US Supreme Court ruling.
The Adelsons’ contributions to the pro-Gingrich super PAC have kept him in the ad war in Florida, an expensive venture by any campaign standard.
Winning Our Future, the super PAC backing Gingrich, says it will spend $6 million before next Tuesday in Florida, though as of yesterday the organization had purchased less than $3 million in broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet ads. A flight of ads mixing spots critical of Romney and promoting Gingrich was scheduled to start running today.
Rick Tyler, a spokesman for the super PAC, said that the total spending of $6 million would be on a variety of media, including Internet and social media, and that reports would be filed with the Federal Election Commission as early as today.
Gingrich and the Adelsons have been friends for many years and share a passion for the security of Israel. Last September, Forbes magazine rated Adelson the eighth-wealthiest American, with an estimated net worth of $21.5 billion built from casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore, and the Macao district of China.
Until now, the Romney campaign and an allied super PAC, Restore Our Future, had dominated the Florida airwaves, outspending the Gingrich campaign and its friendly super PAC by a more than 20-to-1 ratio dating back to December.
As of yesterday, the Romney super PAC, which reported four $1 million donations in its Federal Election Commission filing last summer, had purchased nearly $4.7 million in broadcast, cable, and radio time in the state’s 10 TV markets for the last eight days of the campaign, according to data compiled by another campaign organization. Since Dec. 16, the super PAC has spent more than $8.4 million in Florida, much of it attacking Gingrich. The Romney campaign had purchased more than $2.8 million for the final push. Since Jan. 4, the Romney campaign has spent more than $5.6 million on ads in Florida.
By contrast, the Gingrich campaign had purchased only $145,000 on cable ads across the state and a minuscule amount of radio time. The campaign did not respond to a request yesterday for information about its media strategy heading into the primary.
Before the Adelson cash infusion, Winning Our Future had purchased about $358,000 of air time in the state as well as $271,000 in national radio time and $100,000 on Internet ads.
The proliferation of super PACs, which may collect unlimited donations from corporations, unions, and individuals, has alarmed campaign finance watchdog groups.
“The big concern with super PACs and the unlimited contributions to them is that it gives far more power to wealthy individuals and special interest groups and by extension reduces the power of the average voter and small donor,’’ said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. “Congress and the Supreme Court for decades have recognized that huge contributions directly to campaigns or individuals can create corruption and therefore should be limited.’’
Complicating matters for Romney, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union has launched a $1 million ad campaign in Florida attacking him on the theme of “corporate greed.’’ Nearly $100,000 of the buy is on the Internet. Meanwhile, the Service Employees International Union and the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action intend to spend more than $100,000 on Spanish-language radio ads accusing Romney of having “two faces’’ when it comes to the Latino community.
“The last thing that President Obama and his cronies want is Mitt Romney as an opponent - which explains their ‘all hands on deck’ approach for their strategy to ‘kill Romney,’ the same way they engaged in a campaign of personal destruction against Hillary Clinton,’’ Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, said.
The Romney campaign may be getting some help in Florida from an unlikely source, a super PAC supporting Ron Paul, who is basically bypassing Florida. Endorse Liberty announced it will spend $1.4 million in Florida with what appears to be a mix of ads boosting Paul and attacking Gingrich, initial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate.
Paul’s campaign is concentrating on caucus states and open primaries where independents can vote. Only Republicans may vote in the upcoming Florida contest.
The fourth candidate, Rick Santorum, is campaigning in the state but also holding back resources. Neither his campaign nor a pro-Santorum super PAC, Red White and Blue Fund, had purchased ads in Florida as of yesterday.
The clutter of ads, most of them negative, annoys some voters, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
“Even though I think a lot of the general Republican electorate is really concerned about the candidates slicing and dicing each other, for the candidates they don’t have much choice but to tear their opponent down and move those people who are undecided.’’
The stakes next Tuesday are so high because most Republicans understand Florida’s importance in the general election, MacManus said.
“They realize if you can’t win Florida, you probably can’t win the White House,’’ she said.
Brian C. Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.