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$1.56 Billion Spent on 2016 Election so Far, Super PACs Leading the Way

A recent study co-authored by the Wesleyan Media Project and Center for Responsive Politics (WMP/CRP), found that around 2.4 million political ads have aired this election cycle at a total cost of $1.56 billion.

A major portion of this ad spending comes from super PACs that are allowed to legally raise and spend unlimited sums of money advocating for or against a certain candidate. According to the report, in the 2016 election cycle super PACs accounted for nearly 72% of group-sponsored advertising.

Political spending has increased steadily through U.S. election history. But the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision of 2010 intensified the flow of money to campaigns at the national and regional level. As a result of Citizens United, the federal government can no longer restrict non-profit groups' spending on political causes. The court's decision applied to for-profit entities such as corporations, as well.

Critics of the ruling say that it has given well-funded organizations and individuals undue influence over results, and often without revealing themselves. 

Super PACs have to reveal their donor list. But dark money groups do not have to disclose the source of funds for political ads. Dark money groups are non-profits that may receive money from companies, unions and other trade groups. 

Here are three important findings about ad spending by outside groups:

1. Outside spending has focused more on senate races than others.

Outside groups are responsible for the bulk of ads "that mention or picture the candidates on the ballot" in the Senate races and some competitive House races.

According to the WMP/CRP report, while Democrats sponsor their own advertisements, Republicans rely mostly on outside groups for advertising expenditure. All top five ad- spenders in the Senate races belonged to outside groups, either to super PACs or dark money groups.

Super PACS like Senate Majority PAC, Women Vote, and Freedom Partners have had to publicly disclose their donor list. But dark money groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and One Nation have not had to do so.