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Political ads flooding Virginia
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Date published: 9/30/2012
The noise is the political ads and if it seems like you're seeing more of them this year than ever before, that's because you are.
There is more outside group money going into more ads in this election than ever before, and Virginia--a swing state in this presidential election and with a tight, high-profile U.S. Senate race--is seeing a healthy portion of it.
According to Federal Elections Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, so far in 2012 superPACs have raised $390 million and spent $275 million on this year's campaigns.
Count other types of outside groups, and the amount of spending jumps to about $480 million.
Analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, using the CRP data, shows those outside groups have spent $37 million so far on TV ads in Virginia alone.
About half of that is money from groups that don't disclose who their donors are; the other half is from superPACs that do disclose.
The result is that voters are seeing an unprecedented slew of ads, most negative against another candidate, frequently misleading about the facts, and with little disclosure about who exactly is behind the ad.
"Things are completely out of control this election cycle," said University of Mary Washington political analyst Stephen Farnsworth. "There is so much money sloshing around, and it's coming from all kinds of sources. People don't know about donors, they don't know what these organizations are. Most organizations have these innocuous names that give no hint" of their ideology.
The big difference this year is rooted in a pair of court rulings in 2010. Through the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and a subsequent appeals court ruling in the Speechnow.org vs. FEC case, individuals, corporations and unions can now donate unlimited money to independent-expenditure groups, as long as those groups don't coordinate with candidates or campaigns.
New independent groups, collecting and spending millions of dollars, quickly surfaced. Some, like so-called superPACs, are organized in such a way that they must disclose who their donors are; others are organized as nonprofits, and don't have to disclose their donors.
To check the accuracy of political ads, look at some fact-checking organizations:
To look into more independent-expenditure groups' campaign finance, check the Center for Responsive Politics and VPAP: