Campaign fundraising has always relied on political action committees (PACS). Before 2010, the amount of money that an individual (or individual entity) could donate was limited, with the specific limit depending on whether the money was going to an election or political party.
In 2010, a pair of judicial decisions created "independent-expenditure only committees," better known as the super PAC. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, by the Supreme Court, lifted spending limits. Based off this decision, the Speechnow v. FEC ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court dispensed with contribution limits. While the committees cannot coordinate directly with candidates, they are allowed to mount the kind of direct, aggressive attacks previously forbidden. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act) became law, aimed towards reducing the effect of unregulated 'soft money' in electioneering--these judicial decisions specifically overturned pieces of this law.
A few days ago, on October 15th, candidates had to announce their third quarter fundraising totals. (The third quarter runs from July through September.) President Obama has raised a reported $89 million, with this quarter being his largest ever in a non-election year, far exceeding his numbers in the 2007-2008 election. His numbers, which combine money given to the Democratic National Committee and his own campaign, also far exceed any of the Republican candidates. Mitt Romney has raised $14.2 million in the third quarter and a total of $32 million, although he has not yet contributed any personal funds to his campaign. In 2008, he donated $40 million dollars to himself. Rick Perry narrowly beat him this past fiscal quarter, raising $17 million dollars.
Mitt Romney is the candidate who has raised the most money from Wall Street, taking in $7.5 million to President Obama's $3.9 million. Rick Perry raised $2 million. Protests are spreading across the country, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Their core issue is corporate money influencing politics.
But since this is 2012, the era of the super PAC, and since these amounts are only what is directly associated with each candidate, they tell only a small part of the story. Each candidate has a super PAC, and a donor who has given the maximum to the official campaign can still give unlimited money.
While President Obama appears in the lead in the fundraising game, the super PAC associated with his campaign, Priorities USA, has raised $3.2 million, compared to the over $12 million raised by a group that supports Mitt Romney, Restore our Future. (It is worth noting that Priorities USA has a sister 501(c)4 group called Priorities USA Action that does not need to disclose its finances.)
Both Priorities USA and Restore our Future have relied on big donations from prominent supporters. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million to Priorities USA, and Restore our Future received four $1 million donations, including one from a former Romney co-worker at Bain Capital who set up a limited liability corporation to hide his contributions.
Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul all have a super PAC supporting them as well. (Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann each have two.) All of these organizations have been actively aggressive in trashing their opponents, including attacking Rick Perry for vaccinating young girls for HPV.
Perry's organization, Make Us Great Again, plans to raise $55 million.
In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act) became law, aimed towards reducing the effect of unregulated 'soft money' in electioneering. Eight years later, campaign finance is more unregulated than ever. The super PAC played an enormous role in the 2010 midterm elections, and it is clear that it will play a similar role in the Presidential elections as well.