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Super PAC Men Eating Up Media Buys

Super PAC spending has become as much a news staple during this election season as debates and primaries. And as the 2012 cycle continues to play out, it’s no surprise that the biggest PAC spenders are those backing the top two remaining GOP candidates. The Mitt Romney supporter, “Restore Our Future,” is currently the expenditure winner at $17.485 million, followed by the Newt Gingrich supporter, “Winning Our Future,” clocking in at $8.829 million.

The spending appears to have paid off for Romney, who won the Florida primary handily last week to become the clear front-runner. But media outlets were also the beneficiaries of “Restore Our Future,” according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the past two weeks, the “Restore” PAC’s media buys on ads either supporting Romney or attacking Gingrich totaled $6,809,162, with an additional $67,744 for media production.

The “Winning” PAC’s spending on ads supporting Gingrich or attacking Romney was not broken out cleanly between production and media buys, but the combined total spent on TV or radio advertising and production was $3,986,154, with the vast majority of that—at least $2.5 million—on radio and TV media buys. Together, the PACs also spent more than a half-million dollars in the past two weeks on Internet advertising.

By contrast, the media spending for one of the more talked-about Super PACs, Steven Colbert’s satiric “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” was all about the creative.

A handful of ads have been showcased on Colbert’s TV show and Website, but so far the PAC expenditures on the creative for the ads have far outstripped any media buys.

The idea all along was for Colbert to use the PAC, and the humorous ads, as a device to address the Super PAC issue on his show. Super PACs are the independent expenditure committees made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision. which allowed for unlimited amounts of corporate and union money to be spent to elect or defeat federal candidates.

The Colbert PAC has raised more than $1 million and had more than $673,000 in the bank, with the money coming from bankers, factory workers, soldiers, doctors, computer programmers and a prison guard, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks PAC expenditures.

Airtime on The Colbert Report and production costs associated with segments about the PAC fall under a press exemption for in-kind contributions, which would otherwise have to be reported. But the costs for producing and paying for any ads that the PAC actually buys media time to run on-air must be reported.

According to the latest numbers from the FEC, Colbert’s PAC has spent an estimated $50,000 on ad production costs in the past three weeks but only made $3,000 worth of media buys: a $750 buy opposing Mitt Romney, a similar sum on an ad opposing Newt Gingrich and $1,500 for a new ad that supports Herman Cain—who is no longer running—by attacking Colbert, who is pretending to run. Sort of.